Thursday, April 08, 2010

8 APR 10: Brother Against Brother

The countdown in Atlanta is on hold, at T-minus-7. The T stands for turmoil, and the Georgia General Assembly has seven days left in the 2010 session. Lawmakers are NOT in session this week - showing while they disagree on a lot of things, they agree on the need to vacation at the beach.

Several Georgia legislature matters crossed our path Wednesday. The main event came with a phone call from the President of the Georgia Christian Coalition - a Columbus resident who told me he sometimes reads this blog at midnight. Hey, maybe that makes these jokes about as good as Jay Leno's.

Jerry Luquire told me the Georgia Christian Coalition is disagreeing with a branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, on one bill before the Georgia legislature. This news was stunning on its face. I guess this means the Christian Coalition leaders are "free will" Baptists....

Jerry Luquire showed Christian ethics, by passing along a letter the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptists sent to Georgia lawmakers in late March. It endorses a one-dollar increase in the state tobacco tax, arguing primarily that it will reduce smoking by teenagers. Well, either that or it will increase teenage demands for "loans" from their parents.

The letter from E.R.L.C. President Richard Land notes Georgia's budget problems, and estimates the proposed "health impact fee" would bring the state.... hey, wait a minute! Where did that name come from?! It almost sounds like Southern Baptists are paying Democratic Party consultants on health care reform.

But anyway: the Southern Baptists contend the proposed one-dollar tobacco tax could bring Georgia an extra $350 million. Isn't this amazing? This commission wants the number of smokers to go down - but not so much that the state can't count on them anymore.

So why is the Georgia Christian Coalition opposed to this idea? Jerry Luquire suggested to me over the phone it's more Christian to oppose tax increases, than attempt to reduce smoking. So the choice here is clear -- support "sin taxes," or consider taxes themselves a sin.

A statement e-mailed to your blog by Jerry Luquire takes more of an economic perspective on the tobacco tax proposal. He says the Southern Baptist letter is designed to "promote health or environmental alarms...." I would think health is the bigger issue here - since I've heard no one suggest cigarette smoke is a factor in global warming.

Jerry Luquire fears a one-dollar increase in tobacco taxes will open the door for other state taxes -- promoted by "fanatics against sweets, popcorn, snacks and anything else that tastes good...." Oh no, not a popcorn tax! Aren't those boxes overpriced at movie theatres already?

"Have high taxes deterred teens from illegal purchases of alcohol?" Jerry Luquire asks in his statement. He then answers: "Ask any policeman." Hmmmm - I haven't heard Columbus police talk about establishing new beats around convenience stores.

Jerry Luquire goes on to note the tobacco industry "supports agriculture and thousands of employees...." This reminds me of one problem I've had with U.S. policies for decades. The federal government discourages opium growing in Afghanistan, while subsidizing some U.S. tobacco farmers. Yet for some reason, I never hear people call that subsidy a "death tax."

It occurs to me that another issue could be a factor in all this. The budget tug-of-war in Atlanta seems to have a tobacco tax increase on one side, and a proposed tax on hospital beds on the other. Southern Baptists are known for operating hospitals -- while I suppose the Christian Coalition could be more into faith healers and anointed cloths.

THE BIG BLOG QUESTION will let you blow smoke let off steam on this question. Should tobacco taxes be increased in Georgia, to help balance the state budget? While you vote on this, the Georgia Christian Coalition might want to work on other things. For instance, its web site still indicates we're in 2007.

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you may not expect. Visitors from around the world read "On the Flop!" <-

E-MAIL UPDATE: Before Jerry Luquire called Wednesday, another blog reader had a different legislative matter in mind....

Dear Richard,

This state and country are in dire need of campaign ethics reform. The many ethics bills that are put forward in the General Assembly are either not real ethics reform, or if they are ethics reform, they are lost in committee before they go for a vote.

As your audience may know, there are many procedural tricks that can be pulled to prevent a bill from passing.

Given that, all of the ethics bills died an early death except Sen. Seth Harp's bill, Senate Bill 17.

You will remember Speaker Ralston was chosen as Speaker of the House when the former Speaker, Glenn Richardson, left in lobbyist-payment-affair-disgrace. Well the Republicans decided they need ethics reform to overcome the misdeeds of their colleague and former leader.

Only problem is, they got sidetracked and decided to water down one bill and kill the others. Now, Speaker Ralston wants a bill that has no limits on campaign contributions. What is wrong with that- why shouldn't everyone be allowed to give whatever they want to politicians? Well, because purchasing legislation is a bad idea, particularly since legislation can be purchased by any group, if they have the right money for the new legislation. Should we have laws [that we must follow] because someone in a foreign country wanted that law for us? Or, should we have to follow laws that were promoted through contributions to PACs by radicals?

Are we to be left with obeyance to laws created by special interest groups -even foreign entities, perhaps through money hidden in Political Action Committees, PACS?

Speaker Ralston is now approving a bill written by Seth Harp that has no campaign contribution limits. After he finishes with it, he will send it back to Seth and the Senate for approval and then back to the House for final approval. We need limits on contributions. Rep. Richard Smith and Rep. Calvin Smyre want limits and signed on to the HB 920, by Rep. Willard, but it died a speedy death in committee.

There is still time- though they are in recess this week, they have a few legislative days left before they finish out this legislative year. If Speaker Ralston wants to put in campaign limits, and send it back to Seth, and if Seth approves it, it will then be voted on by the Senate. Seth could pull this off for our state!

Please, Everyone, ask Sen. Seth Harp, and all others, to support campaign contribution limits, as was in HB 920. Please ask Seth to support campaign contribution limits, and remind him that if he does he will leave the Senate as a hero.

Here is a link that will show names and phone numbers of each Representative and Senator. Please call legislators and ask them to support campaign contribution limits in this bill: Senate Bill 17. Let's help Seth leave the Senate as a hero among his constituency.

Of course, we should remember why Seth Harp is leaving the Georgia Senate. He's running for state Insurance Commissioner -- so if he opposes limits on campaign donations, he could leave the Gold Dome as a hero to his banker and a very wealthy man.

There's another potential advantage to removing the limits on campaign donations. It's the private sector's version of a "government stimulus" plan -- stimulating candidates for government office to spend at will.

As it happens, the Associated Press reported Wednesday Georgia House Speaker David Ralston received more than $137,000 in campaign donations within four weeks of his selection last December. Even Aflac donated money to him - and do we really want that duck tied down by state regulations?

Now let's allow Georgia lawmakers to resume their spring break in peace and quiet, while considering other Wednesday news:

+ Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr announced new features on the department's web site. Now you can look up the names of jail inmates and people under arrest warrants. But there are NO "mug shots" with the inmates' names, so the tabloid paper "The Joint" can remain in business for now.

+ A blown transformer reduced power at part of The Medical Center for several hours. A spokesperson told the Ledger-Enquirer "no critical areas" were affected by the outage - so if you were hoping for a computer glitch to reduce patient bills, forget it.

+ The Columbus Trade Center hosted a career fair for teenagers. WRBL reported the companies offering jobs included Domino's Pizza - which proves even in high-tech 2010, we still need low-priced laborers to hand-toss pizzas and drive delivery cars.

+ Columbus State swept Georgia Southwestern State in college men's and women's tennis, 9-0 and 9-0. From what I saw on WTVM, there probably were no disputes about line calls - not when there's a coating of pollen all over the courts.

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