ATLANTA (AP) — Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Telegraph, Macon, Georgia, on air quality standards in Middle Georgia:
Some issues never rise to the public's attention until there is bad news on the horizon. Such is the case with air quality attainment and non-attainment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets air quality standards, and if an area does not meet those standards they are in non-attainment. That's exactly what was about to happen a dozen years ago when the EPA was on the verge of designating Bibb, Houston and Monroe counties non-compliant with the eight-hour ozone regulation. This was not good news. The EPA eventually took most of Monroe and Houston off the non-attainment list, leaving only Bibb and a portion of Monroe, but the new proposed standard for ozone was even lower.
Why is all of this important? Before an industry decides to locate anywhere, it wants to know the cost of doing business. If it locates in an area that's in non-attainment, the extra air pollution controls cost money. And there's more, from enhanced regulatory oversight from the EPA to the loss of federal highway and transit funding.
And there is the impact non-attainment could have on Robins Air Force Base. Back in 2003, as today, the base has the ever-looming specter of a base realignment and closure panel, and one of the boxes that must be checked in two places is air quality. One check box is for deciding whether the base is viable; the other, if the first is affirmative, asks the question, is the base eligible to take on additional missions and would those missions impact air quality? The Air Force wouldn't put more flying missions at a base located in an area that was already failing air quality standards.
Twelve years ago, Middle Georgia responded by forming the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition that includes all the mayors and chairs of the county commissions in the seven-county area that had 13 cities, and it got to work. It involved private industry, colleges and universities, school systems and others. Municipal fleets were retrofitted. Landfill gases are converted to energy, and electric vehicles and charging stations appeared, Interstate 75 became a biofuels corridor and green education efforts drilled down to the household level. According to EPA officials, what MGCAC started has become a model for other communities to emulate.
Last week, the EPA announced that the entire region was in attainment. Chairman of the Houston County Commission Tommy Stalnaker said he was, "ecstatic. It was a long process, but it's not over. We can celebrate today, but the celebration needs to be short. We have to continue to work."
One of the driving forces behind this success is the former chairman of the MGCAC, Ned Sanders. He will be honored Thursday with a scholarship fund in his name for a student studying clean energy at Mercer University. It's an honor well-deserved.
The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Georgia, on governor's proposal to increase the number of judges on state's Supreme Court:
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is in the middle of his second term as the state's governor, and he wants to leave a legacy behind on the state's highest court.
The Gainesville Republican recently proposed increasing the number of judges on the state's Supreme Court from seven to nine, matching the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Deal's rationalization of this change, which will undoubtedly be brought before the state Legislature in 2016, is that the growth of the state and the demands on the court are overwhelming to the seven justices who now sit on the court.
What might be even more behind the reasoning for a bump in the court is that of those seven justices, a majority of four were appointed by Democratic governors, including one — Justice Robert Benham — who was appointed by Joe Frank Harris in the late 1980s. By adding two more justices to the mix and with the strong likelihood that at least two of the sitting justices will retire before Deal, expanding the court would allow Deal to appoint five of the nine justices on that court.
Deal's judicial appointments across the board have largely been white, young, male and, in positions where it matters, electable. Only 20 percent of his appointments have been women, only 15 percent are minorities and only one Hispanic has made Deal's judicial cut.
Deal's one appointment to the state Supreme Court — Keith Blackwell — was 36 when he was appointed.
That is a long-lasting and powerful legacy, and the move to expand the state's top court smacks of packing the court to move the highest arbiter of law in the state even more solidly to the right. This is just another step for Deal in reshaping the judicial arm of the state's government without regard to the actual demographics and makeup of the state.
Already Deal has appointed more than 60 new judges who have undergone his vetting procedures, and he pushed through legislation this past year to expand the Court of Appeals from 12 to 15 judges, giving him three other appointments. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Deal is on pace to match the 127 judicial appointments of Democratic governor Zell Miller, but Miller didn't have the Legislature helping him make new positions.
Deal, who is a lawyer and a former district attorney, has also been a friend of the court, helping to push across the board 10 percent raises for judges. Also, another push of expanding the court are plans to build the judiciary a new building near the Capitol at a projected cost of $115 million, which would make it the most expensive taxpayer-funded building in the state's history.
If there was some need to battle against a court out of tune with the people of the state or a court that is disregarding the laws of the state, then we would support Deal's argument for increasing the size of the court. New rules can be made to restrict the number of cases or give the court more latitude in choosing which cases it wishes to hear if the justices are overburdened. But allowing the governor to stack a court with justices merely to cement his political legacy is not something which should be allowed.
The Brunswick (Georgia) News on state legislature's control over the economies of local cities and counties:
That's the one-word message Georgia's 159 counties ought to send the state legislature before it convenes the 2016 session of the General Assembly. Stop doing to cities and counties what it claims Congress is doing to states.
Stop trying to steal local control, and stop incessantly stretching the sinew of local economies with new fees.
The association that speaks for county commissions throughout the state met at the Jekyll Island Convention Center this past week. Establishing a list of dos and don'ts for state lawmakers was among the goals of association members.
Most still remember the major tax increase approved by the General Assembly during this year's session. In addition to jacking up the state gasoline tax, charging motorists more at the pump per gallon, the so-called fiscal conservatives in the legislature tacked on an extra $5 per night fee on hotel guests.
Those pushing the higher gas tax and the additional fee for overnighters weren't sure how much all of it would generate and what kind of impact it would have on the tourism industry or local economies.
They just knew they wanted it, and because they are state legislators, they could get it.
Apparently no one ever gave any consideration to how careful local governments are to keep their accommodations tax, or bed tax, as low as possible. They will debate for days and weeks raising it even just a little. Their goal is to generate revenue to help pay for the services and infrastructure needed to accommodate tourists and to promote their communities without taxing guests to death.
Yet here comes the state legislature. Without thinking of impact, it just creates a new bed tax, raises the gasoline tax and tells the Department of Transportation to eat up. Without much thought, it opted to generate an unknown amount of money with an unknown impact on local economies and for unknown costs to be incurred by the transportation department, the same department that just woke up one day and, without being able to fully explain why found itself teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Cities and counties know better than states where investment is needed in their communities.
Who knows, one day, a real fiscally conservative House and Senate might stop robbing them of revenue sources with new fees.