Fractional fracture: It’s back to drawing board for Lee and his split-penny plan
by Joe Kirby, Otis A. Brumby III and Lee B. Garrett, - Around Town Columnists
March 22, 2014 01:36 AM | 5771 views | 4 4 comments | 83 83 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The General Assembly’s failure to pass the main request from the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and county Chairman Tim Lee this year has thrown a wrench in Lee’s plan to bring a special purpose local option sales tax referendum to voters this November.

Lee said he was relying on passage of state Rep. John Carson’s House Bill 153, which would allow counties and cities to collect a sales tax of less than 1 cent per dollar spent.

Had that passed, Lee planned to ask voters for a fractional SPLOST this fall.

“It would have been better to have a fractional penny available to me, but since that’s not going to work I’ve got to go with the full penny and try to work around it, so it makes it a little more harder, but we’ll get it done,” Lee said.

A six-year SPLOST is projected to collect about $750 million. Of that sum, 74 percent — or $555 million — would go to county projects and 26 percent — or $195 million — would go to Cobb’s six cities.

The House passed Carson’s bill on March 3, sending it to the Senate, which changed it to allow for multiple SPLOSTs at the same time, provided they add up to no more than 1 percent at any given time.

Carson objected to the Senate’s revision and a standoff occurred between the two chambers.

Lee said he will speak with lawmakers before deciding whether to pursue the fractional SPLOST legislation in the future.

Commenting on the opposition, Lee said, “I think some of the cities in the rural areas and some of the counties in the rural areas where their SPLOSTs don’t raise as much money, they have difficulties doing any significant major capital projects with less than a penny, and that the stress might be too strong from their constituent base to do less than a penny in order to get done any significant projects, so I think that is the biggest reason.”

State Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb) said Carson’s original bill was called up for a Senate vote about five minutes before midnight, but it never received a vote before the session ended for the year.

Senate leadership was advised earlier in the evening by opponents of the bill that they intended a filibuster to run the clock out, Hill said.

Who were the opponents?

“I think some out of Gwinnett as well as the vast majority of the Democrats,” Hill said.

Any senator has the right to speak in the well for up to 30 minutes on one bill, Hill said.

“So there’s a lot of pressure, therefore, because if a bill is debated for 30 minutes on the last evening, numerous other bills will never be eligible to come up for a vote because the clock runs out. At any given 30-minute period in the last night, especially in the last 3 hours, we may vote on five to 10 bills, sometimes more, and that means there’s a sensitivity to avoiding filibuster situations because the rest of the calendar dies,” Hill said.

Hill favors the fractional SPLOST because he says it’s fiscally responsible and limits governments from loading up the SPLOST list with wasteful spending.

“A number of people opposed to it, I believe, prefer the full penny because they can add more projects to the list, which I think is the very reason why a number of times these SPLOSTs have passed by very slim margins,” he said. “I think a fractional SPLOST is a much wiser, more fiscally responsible proposal to the voters than asking for more money.”


POLITICAL FOOTBALL: State Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) said the biggest disappointment of the session for him was the game of political football the Senate and House played with legislation that lifted restrictions on medical marijuana and mandated insurance coverage for children with autism.

Hill said the House was intent on legislation that would have allowed for the use of a particular cannabis oil known to reduce seizures in people with epilepsy. The oil does not contain the ingredient in marijuana that produces a high.

The Senate, meantime, was intent on mandating insurance coverage for children ages 1 to 6 who have autism.

“I think there are some people in the House that have philosophical problems with insurance mandates in general, and frankly, so do I, but here’s the deal on autism: when you take a child who has a high level of autism and they don’t want to read, don’t want to write, don’t want to speak, and they don’t get treatment, then those symptoms can find a long-term foothold, and then that person is not able to ultimately function and be a taxpaying citizen,” Hill said.

But if treated early, the child is able to become a productive member of society, he said.

Yet because both chambers insisted on their favored bill, both measures died.

“I think at the end of the day if I were to tell you why it happened it’s that individuals who work really hard on a piece of legislation, and then if they have influence in either chamber then they can sometimes dig their heels in and say, ‘if that other chamber doesn’t pass what I’m working on then we’re not going to pass what they want,’ and when you’re dealing with a time clock as we were from 10 p.m. to midnight, political gamesmanship enters the atmosphere, and it’s unfortunate,” Hill said. “It’s unfortunate because politics got in the way of helping children. It’s a sad part of the process, but I think it’s more sad that we weren’t able to get those measures passed.”


SICK BAY: Marietta City Attorney Doug Haynie is recuperating after hip replacement surgery this week.

“I’m happy for him, because he’s not very hip,” quipped law partner Gregg Litchfield at Wednesday’s Cobb/Marietta Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Haynie is beginning his 25th year as city attorney this spring, a tenure that began when the late Joe Mack Wilson was mayor. … Meanwhile, very much on the mend from his recent hip replacement surgery, retired Marietta insurance exec Jack Wilson was a welcome sight when spotted heading into a local civic club meeting Thursday, sans cane.


WELL-KNOWN Washington political analyst Charlie Cook, author of the widely followed “Cook Report,” has shifted the Georgia Senate race from “Lean Republican” to the “Toss Up” column.

“Michelle Nunn is proving to be perhaps the best Democratic challenger of the cycle,” he wrote on Wednesday. “Republicans, meanwhile, are mired in a crowded primary that seems destined to produce a run off. As a result, Republicans won’t have a nominee until late July. Moreover, this may be the one race where the threat of nominating a candidate who is generally unelectable in a statewide general election is very real.”


State Reps. Charles Gregory (R-Kennesaw) and Rep. Sam Moore (R-Macedonia) were the only members of the House this week to vote against erecting a privately funded monument to the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on public grounds in the Capitol area.


MORE POLITICS: A fundraiser is scheduled for Cobb Superior Court candidate and Senior Assistant Cobb D.A. Ann Harris from 5-7 p.m. March 27 at The Local, the new eatery in the old Tommy’s location on Marietta Square.

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March 22, 2014
The metro Atlanta GOP needs to learn that what is good for them is not always good for the rest of the state. They need to stop wasting political capital dragging the rest of the state into their economic and political power struggle with the Atlanta Democrats. The entire state apart from the urban centers is comfortably Republican and conservative, but only the Atlanta suburbs are those things plus populous and affluent. Not only was the fractional SPLOST a bad idea for those outside the metro area, but the multi-county transportation bill was also because a lot of Georgia counties could rub all their nickels together and still not have enough money to pay for an extra stoplight and particularly stopping the gas tax revenue from being diverted to the general fund, because everyone knows that the resulting cuts to the general fund would not be replaced, and the outside-the-metro areas rely on revenue to be redistributed to them from the general fund to survive. It is why Nathan Deal opposes these ideas, because he knows that he needs the votes of folks all over the state, not just people living in $350,000 homes in Powder Springs.

The Georgia GOP has merely been lucky that A) Obama is president and B) the Democrats have no prominent white moderates, or no prominent white politicians outside metro Atlanta (save John Barrow). But that luck won't last. With a Republican in the White House and a Cathy Cox type candidate, "the other Georgia" being sold out on issues like closing hospitals, education funding and transportation could really be exploited.

The metro Atlanta GOP needs to fight their own battles. Or at the very least, if they are going to keep going to GOPers from other areas of the state for help on nonsense like creating Milton County (which would require GOP-leaning counties in other areas of the state to consolidate, which they do not want to do, as it would result in very large, sparsely populated and very poor areas to try to govern) then please actually do something to benefit areas of the state other than the Atlanta suburbs. Otherwise, these folks will find themselves out of power with the rest of the state GOP, and unable to press any agenda at all.
how witty
March 22, 2014
Oh that Greg Litchfield how witty he is.
March 22, 2014
Please send Tim Lee to go find MH 370!

Does he ever think about being more productive with less? You know, like the businesses/citizens that he wants to take all this "half-penny" stuff from?

Funny, I have a feeling Tim really thinks it is just a half penny that people will be paying (...cause 'them percentages is real hard to understand too good.)

March 23, 2014
anonymous, the 1980s called and wants its fiscal policy back. Whether you old time Cobb County types want to admit it or not, Cobb County is no longer a suburb of a small city, and the primary economic beneficiary of proximity to that small city. Cobb County has 700,000 people now: most of it is legitimately urban. And Cobb is no longer even the leading suburb: Gwinnett is with a much bigger population (850,000) and more major businesses. Other counties like Hall and Cherokee are growing too and will soon be over 200,000 people. Cobb isn't really competing with ITP anymore. It is competing with other suburban areas for companies and residents. Tim Lee realizes that and is trying to plan for the future. If he doesn't, Cobb will be in between a rock and a hard place. It won't be able to compete with Atlanta for those who want a legitimate urban experience, and it will be less desirable than Gwinnett, Hall, Forsyth, Cherokee, Paulding and even Douglas for people and companies who prefer the suburbs. Traffic, crime, encroaching blight, declining school performance ... those problems have to be dealt with, and there is only so much that can be accomplished by demolishing apartment complexes like Marietta and Kennesaw are doing. Dirty little secret: the people in those complexes worked the low wage construction, service and retail jobs that Cobb County businesses need to survive. So when those people are gone because they will no longer have a place to stay, who is going to take those jobs? Not the Tea Party patriots in their $250,000 houses, nor their kids who regard themselves as being too good to operate the grill at Burger King (and to good to volunteer for military service but that is another story for another day).

If you have better answers for the problems that Tim Lee is trying to address, let us hear them. Otherwise, I sincerely hope you enjoy taking 3 hours to travel 3 miles on on Braves gameday in 2017. If you don't think that traffic nightmares like that won't decimate real estate values in that area, you aren't facing reality. That traffic issue has to be addressed, and addressing it takes money.
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