Friday, January 08, 2010

Or perhaps our sidewalks are themselves an effort to dissuade panhandlers.

Mayor Reed has wasted no time addressing the most important issue facing Atlanta: panhandling. From Fresh Loaf:

At Kasim Reed's first press conference as mayor yesterday, he announced — after introducing interim Police Chief George Turner and the new APD structure — that he plans to vigorously enforce the city's existing panhandling laws. The ATL's many panhandlers, he says, are the number two complaint among visitors and a serious drag on downtown's convention-based economy. . . .

Then he delivered a tough sound bite: "Walking up and asking people for money in the city of Atlanta is not OK."

Says the person who's spent a good amount of his career raising money for his political campaigns, which is "walking up and asking people for money," albeit in a much nicer suit.

I am no longer the bleeding heart that I once was with respect to panhandlers, no longer following the command that we "give to those who beg from you", but the approach our city has taken - treating them as criminals - well, contrary what you might have heard about Sodom and Gomorrah, it's that attitude what will get you smote.

Reed's willingness to incur God's wrath notwithstanding, I walk Atlanta often, and I rarely encounter a panhandler who is as much of a problem as, say, the dangerous crosswalks or the patchwork sidewalks. You know, if Reed wanted to make the city more friendly to visitors, he'd work to make the city more friendly to pedestrians - at least then, not everyone who uses the sidewalk would do so because he has to work there.

Milton cuts its conservative ideology tax.

Is there nothing sacred in the Great Recession?

When Milton became a city three years ago, its founders embraced privatization, paying a company to collect garbage, draw up zoning maps and handle the day-to-day duties of a municipal government.

But the relationship soured when the city needed to cut the budget. Last week, Milton ended its contract with CH2M Hill, a Colorado-based firm, and went to a mostly traditional form of government.

City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said the change should translate into at least $1 million in yearly savings — a significant sum for a city with a $22.9 million budget.

Twenty of 34 CH2M Hill employees assigned to Milton decided to stay, most holding the same jobs. The city rounded their annual CH2M Hill salaries up to the nearest thousand.

I was skeptical of whether this would work, and it seems that my skepticism was warranted. So, it seems that privatization doesn't work for small governments like Milton; it doesn't work for large governments like Atlanta; so why privatize? As far as I can see, it's ideology: privatization is a conservative value, and conservatives were willing to allocate $1 million of a $20 million budget - 5% - to adhere to that value.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Civil War was fun, let's have another.

From Jay Bookman:

Larry Peterson of the Savannah Morning News has advanced the story [of Georgia's pro-secession minority] by polling the six GOP candidates for governor. According to Peterson, four of the six support the resolution, one opposes it and the sixth refused to take a position on whether nullification and secession were are good ideas.

These are people running for the highest office in the state, including the three frontrunners for the GOP nomination. The winner of that nomination would in turn be favored to be our next governor.

More accurately, if events take a turn, I guess that person could become the first president of Georgia.

Every time I think the Republican Party can no longer surprise me, they do. They're the Party of War, the Party of Torture, and now, the Party of Secession. No doubt they wondered why they should continue to support war and torture overseas when they could simply re-open Andersonville.

Also via Bookman, I see that John Oxendine is so committed to secession that he has decorated his son's room in "Confederate Gray"; the traditional blue was, I gather, too Union.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Republicans are sad that the rich have been deprived of a $340 million tax cut.

Oh, woe:

Gov. Sonny Perdue said Monday he will veto House Bill 481, which would have cut the tax on profits of certain investments by 50 percent. His decision led one business association to call on lawmakers to override Perdue's veto when they are next in session and prompted one of Perdue's political acolytes to declare herself "disappointed."

Disappointed? Not that I don't admire Karen Handel's restraint, but conceding that what has been "a cornerstone of Republican economic policy for decades" would bankrupt the state will not win a Republican primary.

What will? A flight of economic fancy! For that, John Oxendine:

But state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said late this evening tha he had no such concerns — and urged an override of the governor's veto by the Legislature when it re-convenes in January.

"Cutting capital gains taxes would have encouraged more investment into the state. It is a sad day when this type of legislation gets vetoed by a Republican governor," Oxendine said in a press release issued about an hour ago.

Nothing says "conservative" like an enduring faith in the curative power of tax cuts for the wealthy elite. And I do believe John Oxendine has that faith.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

For the first time, a plurality of Americans support same-sex marriage.

Support for legal gay marriage has increased dramatically over the past three years, and for the first time, those in favor outnumber those opposed, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Nearly half (49 percent) of all Americans in the new poll said they favor legal marriage for same-sex couples, an increase of 13 percentage points since June 2006. But opposition to gay marriage remains widespread, 46 percent said it should be illegal in the new poll, and most in that camp feel strongly about it (overall 39 percent are that opposed).

Notably, majorities of Democrats (62%), Independents (52%), liberals (71%), and moderates (54%) thought it should be legal for gay couples to get married.

Monday, April 13, 2009

For example, AIG might be willing to insure Atlanta against financial collapse.

Atlanta mayoral candidate Jesse Spikes' love of privatization has withstood both the worst recession since the Great Depression and its cause, the incompetence and greed of the private sector. From his website:

There are many opportunities for the privatization of services now performed by the City.

In my law practice, I have actively supported and participated in the privatization of major services at both the City and County levels. I have witnessed firsthand the cost-savings of privatization . . . and kept a close eye on the quality of service that private companies provided, to guarantee it stayed first-rate. As mayor, I would continue to consider privatization in appropriate circumstances as a way to cut the costs of running our city.

Although he has "witnessed firsthand" the "many opportunities" for "cost savings," he does not name one.

Now, compare Jesse Spikes' gauzy rhetoric to Shirley Franklin's honest response to a recent call for further privatization of city services. From Blog for Democracy:

I understand that there are privatization advocates out there that throw out "projected savings" numbers. That is all very interesting, but at the end of the day the savings opportunity is always quantifiable. A private firm has three potential sources of savings:

  • cheaper capital (due to scale)
  • cheaper labor (usually due to non-union labor)
  • better business processes

When we look at the opportunities in the City, what we generally find is that the City is operating at the peak of the scale curves due to our size (smaller cities usually aren't). Our capital financing capabilities are almost always better than what can be found in the private sector. Our labor is generally cheaper since we do not have collective bargaining in this state so we don't have the type of public sector unions you find in the Northeast and Midwest. That leaves business processes, and our typical approach is to bring someone in to analyze whether there is enough gap between our practices and what a private firm can do to justify privatization. As the examples above demonstrate, the answer has typically been a resounding "no".

Advocates of privatization often make claims that are, as Franklin said, "simply not credible," and Atlanta's next mayor should be no less skeptical of them than Atlanta's current mayor. Certainly, Atlanta's next mayor should not be the one of them.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Because you can never be too tough on crime.

Last week, Attorney General Thurbert Baker announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Governor. The most important part of that story is that Baker is black. Slightly less important, but only slightly, is his involvement in Wilson v. State of Georgia.

Far less important than either of those is his promise "to run a tough-on-crime campaign." It's nevertheless interesting in the context of news of America's record high incarceration rate. From the Pew Center on the States:

For the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison—a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety. According to a new report released today by the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails, or one in every 99.1 men and women, according to the study.

Per the report, in the past two years, Georgia's prison population increased by 4.6% to 55,205. It is now the fifth-largest in America, following Texas (171,790), California (171,444), Florida (97,416), and New York (62,620).

But more shocking than the number incarcerated is the incarceration rate: 1,024 of every 100,000 Georgians is in prison. It is the second-highest in America, following Louisiana (1,138 of every 100,000).

So America is more "tough on crime" than it has ever been. Georgia is its second most "tough on crime" state. So how much more "tough on crime" does Baker think Georgia should be?

Specifically, how many Georgians should be in jail? How high should our incarceration rate be? What percentage of our budget should be dedicated to the maintenance of those numbers? Who will Baker tax - or, more likely, what service will he cut - to pay for them?

I doubt Baker will even be asked those questions, and I doubt that he would answer them to my satisfaction if he were. But I do wonder. At what point does being "tough on crime" cease to be merely tough on criminals and become tough on everyone?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

How Republicans Govern Georgia

Georgia Republicans can't find the money to protect a progressive tax cut for every Georgia homeowner:

Legislative leaders are finalizing a plan that would essentially force cities, counties and school boards to make a choice in the upcoming fiscal year: cut spending or raise property taxes.

Legislation filed earlier this week would make it unlikely the state will fund the $428 million property tax grant this fall. The grant would only be funded in the future in good economic times.

But they can find the money to subsidize prep schools:

The bill from Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) would allot parents about $5,000 in taxpayer money to use toward private school tuition. . .

"Basically, it’s a bait and switch," state Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown (D-Macon) said. "It really doesn’t address the problems in public schools. What you have to do is fund them more adequately."

Under Johnson’s proposal, students who want to switch schools would have to qualify for admission at the new campus first and their parents would have to provide transportation, Johnson said. He estimated about 5 percent of parents would use the vouchers.

Some public school advocates said the new voucher bill is unreasonable considering that school systems face about $275 million in cuts next year.

"It is ludicrous to be trying to divert resources from our public schools," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, an advocacy group with about 75,000 members. "How much more battered down and beaten can they get?"