Redistricting forum sees cynicism, hope (May 3, 2011)
Sen. Ronald Ramsey wrote in an email to the News on May 6, when we asked him about the Chamber's event:
"The delegation was open to answering all redistricting related questions at the LWV forum. We also plan to have more meetings to keep the public aware of the progress as the redistricting process evolves, as well as encouraging citizen input and participation.
"However, despite our past support of the Rockdale Chamber, the government relations spokesperson's vitriolic statements at the forum, made it clear that he desires to have someone other than the current delegation to represent him. Therefore, Rep. Stephenson, Rep. Dawkins-Haigler and I concluded that our time is better spent representing the 70%+ of Rockdale citizens who desire and appreciate our representation. The Chamber is but one of many special interest groups with their own agenda to shape legislation. We are committed to representing the interests of the majority of all of the citizens of Rockdale County. Our track record of responsiveness and the ability to pass laws to benefit Rockdale County shows that such a high level of public confidence is well earned.
"As always we are open to discussing issues of concern directly with the Chamber Leadership."
Recent robust and contentious discussion over redistricting reportedly kept away some members of the Rockdale delegation from attending the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce’s annual Post Legislative Breakfast on Thursday morning at Rockdale Medical Center.
Only the freshmen representatives and senator, state Rep. Pam Dickerson (D-Conyers) and state Rep. Dar’Shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia) and state Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-Locust Grove), attended the breakfast, along with Lauren Wilkes-Frailick of the Ga. Chamber of Commerce. Rep. Pamela Stephenson (D-Decatur), Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia), and Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D-Decatur) did not attend.
Chamber Governmental Committee Chair David Shipp said he had promised the attending legislators that he wouldn’t field questions on reapportionment.
Shipp said the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber’s request for a representative or senator largely with a district entirely or largely in Rockdale was not a reflection on current legislators.
“We are not saying any of this as a slam against any of them and their fine representation of us,” said Shipp. “They have gone out of their way.”
Shipp also pointed out the Democratic legislators, as members of the minority party, would likely not have much say in how the redistricting lines are drawn.
“Not much,” agreed Dickerson and Kendrick.
Unemployment insurance fees, health insurance
Wilkes-Frailick described a few bills the Ga. Chamber had advocated that had passed an were likely to be signed. The governor will likely finish signing or vetoing bills by next week.
HB292 reduces the pending surcharge increase for unemployment insurance that business owners would have to pay, said Wilkes-Frailick.
“All the states are struggling on this issue. The current rate of 35 percent was scheduled to go to 100 percent on January 1, 2012. This caps the increase at 50 percent instead of going up to 100 percent. For new companies, it also extends the current rate newly covered employers pay unemployment taxes until a rate is calculated based on employment experience.”
Another house bill, HB47, allows individuals to buy health insurance across state lines. “This puts Georgia ahead of a lot of other states,” she said. “Now you can look to other states for a plan that may be more affordable or more suitable.”
SB10 (Sunday alcohol sales)
Of the Sunday alcohol sales, there did not appear to be much movement to put it on the ballot in the city or county any time soon.
City councilman Marty Jones said the council would move on it only if there was interest from ordinary citizens. “Nobody’s even approached me,” he said. “We’re not going to lead the charge.” Jones said he was waiting to hear what the mom-and-pop package stores wanted rather than chain grocery stores.
County Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon said, “It’s a potential revenue source. I think (the commissioners) will at some point place it on the ballot. But not as a free standing ballot initiative.”
There is a city election this fall, but no partisan county elections.
SB122 (Public-private partnership for reservoirs/water treatment)
Jeffares, who owns a wastewater company, spoke on the recently signed SB122, which allows public-private partnerships for creating water supplies and reservoirs.
“I was a big fan of this (bill),” he said. “We’ve been talking about reservoirs for 20 years. It’s frustrating if you’re in the business I’m in… We know where the reservoirs can be built. But they cost a lot of money.”
He said he wasn’t sure how the private portion of the partnership would look, but he said two companies he heard were interested were Georgia Power and Coca Cola.
Bills that didn’t pass: Income tax changes
HB387, which would have proposed a plethora of new sales taxes and fees on services and reduced income taxes for some brackets, was pulled at the last minute.
“We would have gotten it done this year,” said Jeffares. “Some of the numbers we got from Georgia State were bogus numbers.”
He said Sen. Mitch Seabaugh realized that people making between $120,000 and $250,000 were getting a tax increase.
Jeffares said, “I’m all for lowering income tax. But what you’ve got to understand… We go to Tea Party groups and we hear ‘We want a Fair Tax.’ That means we’re going to have to tax you on consumption.”
The bill on pari-mutuel betting never made it to the House floor, said Kendrick.
“I do think it would bring a lot of revenue for the state, not only for Conyers,” she said. “I think the strategy was to get Sunday sales passed. People would think we’d gone crazy if we have two of them, trying to pass them at the same time.”
Wilkes-Frailick added, “Yes, there was a fear of too many ‘sin’ bills this year. There was a fear that if we passed the pari-mutuel betting, there’s a loophole that automatically allows for casinos in Georgia.”