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Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy

Nathan Deal taps $100 million in reserves to provide fix for state employee health care plan

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nathan deal

Gov. Nathan Deal/AJC file

Soothing complaints from teachers over the state’s new health care plan won’t come cheaply.

Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday that it would cost about $100 million to make the changes that the Department of Community Health is expected to approve today in response to the outcry from some of the 650,000 teachers, public employees and their dependents.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogHe’s tapping the insurance plan’s reserve funds for the money rather than take from other parts of the budget, a move that would leave the account with roughly around $300 million. His proposal to increase K-12 funding by $547 million is off-limits, the governor said after an appearance at a gathering of the Georgia Municipal Association.

“We believe the reserve is adequate to cover any unexpected circumstances,” Deal said. “We had enough reserve in the account to be able to absorb these additional changes.”

Deal again said President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is partly to blame for the rising costs and fewer options under the new state plan. But he said the changes shouldn’t become fodder for a political blame game.

“I don’t think there should be any political blame at all. We are trying to do what is best for the citizens of our state and the taxpayers as well as those who work for the state, whether they be teachers or employees.”

But behind the scenes, a debate is raging over how to explain them.

The argument from Gov. Nathan Deal and other conservatives is that President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is partly to blame for the rising costs and fewer options under the new state plan.

Deal said as much last week, and some Republican lawmakers are using the tumult to push legislation that seeks to exempt the state health plan from changes under the Affordable Care Act.

***

The Georgia Municipal Association today has its Mayor’s Day at the state Capitol. The kickoff event is a U.S. Senate debate that will start within the next few minutes at the downtown Hilton Atlanta.

In the audience will be Edna Branch Jackson, the mayor of Savannah, who had breakfast with both House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

She has more traveling ahead of her. Tomorrow night, she’ll be U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s date at the State of the Union address by President Barack Obama.

“I’m excited. I’m humbled,” said Jackson, who said Isakson’s invitation was a mark of bipartisanship. “To do what you have to for your community, you have to deal across the aisle. [Isakson’s staff] have been very helpful with us.”

Isakson does this with some regularity. Last year, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell was his guest.

But two reasons may behind Jackson’s invite: Georgia’s political leadership will be looking for some mention of federal cash for dredging the Port of Savannah. If that happens, Isakson and the mayor of Savannah arm-in-arm would make a timely photo.

Secondly, consider the invitation more proof that Isakson will be running for re-election in 2016.

***

The Georgia Municipal Association’s annual shindig this morning provided Gov. Nathan Deal with fodder for an endorsement. Flanked by a few dozen mayors, the governor’s campaign announced the endorsements of about 110 mayors across the state.

Among them: Deke Copenhaver of Augusta, Boyd Austin of Dallas, and Ames Barnett of Washington, who runs a town that is about 70 percent Democratic. Deal talked of a rebounding Georgia economy, and promised more job announcements were in the works.

***

Speaking of the Port of Savannah: A Wall Street Journal article this morning looks at how earmarks have survived in Congress, picking out one particular Republican candidate for U.S. Senate:

Rep. Jack Kingston (R., Ga.), who is running in a crowded GOP primary field for a Senate seat, faced a particularly ticklish dilemma. As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, he was well positioned to shape the bill. He used that influence to advance a provision to expedite federal funding of a huge infrastructure project crucial to Georgia, the dredging of Savannah harbor.

It was a coup, but Mr. Kingston voted against the bill on grounds that it spent too much overall. He was the only member of the appropriations committee to vote against the measure, a move that colleagues attributed to him facing a primary slate of Republicans competing to establish themselves as the most conservative candidate.

***

Attorney General Sam Olens doesn’t have to worry about a Democratic challenger quite yet. We’re told his 2010 opponent, Ken Hodges, is staying out of the race. And our colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin brings us the news this morning that Lester Tate, the ex-State Bar of Georgia president, has decided against a bid.

From Sheinin’s dispatch:

Tate, a Cartersville lawyer, said Democratic Party of Georgia chairman DuBose Porter and others approached him to consider a race against Republican incumbent Attorney General Sam Olens. But he said his two children, both in college, demand his attention.

“I did think about it very seriously,” Tate said. “I just decided it wasn’t the right time for me. It’s something I might like to do at some point in the future. It’s just not the right time for me.”

***

Our AJC colleagues Bill Torpy and Johnny Edwards had what was likely the most important piece of the weekend in political Georgia:

Almost a decade since Sandy Springs set the incorporation template, six cities in Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties have been created. Today, 44 of the 46 elected officials in those cities are white, the lone exception being a Hispanic councilman in Johns Creek who steps down next week. One seat is vacant.

And in the history of those cities, of the 66 people elected since their inception, just one was black, a councilwoman, also in Johns Creek.

Almost no one involved with the incorporations would say race is a factor in the cities’ creation. But the stark results give new ammunition to opponents’ claims that the cities were a plan to erect new racial barriers and siphon revenue from areas that have a limited tax base for public services.

***

In the “Week Ahead in Washington,” Malloy looks at the State of the Union and the state of flood insurance reform.

***

The New York Times on Sunday offered a front page piece on Michelle Nunn and her U.S. Senate bid. From the article:

“I know the Nunns; they’re fine people,” said Larry Walker, a former Democratic leader of the Georgia House, who does legal work for the former senator. Yet Mr. Walker, whose politics now tilt Republican, is neutral so far.

Ms. Nunn is not Georgia’s only legacy Democrat. Jason Carter, a grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, is trying to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal. Mr. Walker is skeptical. “Political legacies don’t last like they used to,” he said.

The content of the article is of less importance than the fact that such national attention will likely help Nunn turn in a large fund-raising number by the end of this week, reinforcing her status as a formidable Democratic opponent to whoever survives the GOP primary runoff in July.

(Nunn, by the way, turned away the Georgia Municipal Association’s invitation to a debate this morning with fellow Democrat Branko “Dr. Rad” Radulovacki. He’ll be on the stage alone.)

***

Bill Barrow of the Associated Press took a big-picture look at the Republican side of the race. Barrow quotes Phil Gingrey’s departed general consultant, warning about the primary’s rightward pull:

Republican consultant Chip Lake, who worked briefly for Gingrey’s campaign in 2013, said the key to holding the white suburban vote “is nominating the most electable conservative.” Of course, Lake conceded, the GOP primary puts the definition of conservative up for grabs.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of us in the movement who would rather win that argument than win elections,” he said.

***

Apparently, one of the two candidates in the Feb. 4 special election runoff for state House District 2, to replace Jay Neal, is hinting that he’s got the backing of U.S. Rep. Tom Graves. But Graves is saying it ain’t so:

“I want to make it clear to Georgians in House District 2 that I have not made an endorsement in the Special Election Runoff.  Any use of my name or image on campaign materials in this race has been done without my knowledge or approval.

“My staff has been in contact with the campaigns to reiterate that I will not make an endorsement in this race and to request that they immediately stop using any potentially misleading material involving my name.  This election will be decided by the people of District 2 and I’m confident that either of the candidates will serve well and represent the values of North Georgia.”

The two surviving candidates, both Republican, are Steve Tarvin and Neal Florence.

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