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Greg BluesteinDaniel Malloy
Jim Galloway

Nathan Deal: Talk of gas tax hike is ‘premature’

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State lawmakers are wrestling with ways to fill a $74 billion transportation funding shortfall in the next two decades. Gov. Nathan Deal doesn’t seem to think raising the state’s 4 percent motor fuel sales tax is a solution.

The governor said it’s “premature to be talking about an increase in taxation.” Said Deal:

“I want to see what the study committee comes back with. To be talking about an increase in the gas tax means that you’re going to have to have enough votes for the General Assembly to pass it. It would be interesting to see what the members of this study committee recommend.”

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogY0u can assume it won’t be a tax hike. So what other methods could they be examining?

One possibility could involve directing the fourth penny of that fuel tax, about $180 million that’s now diverted to the general fund, toward transportation projects. Another could give local governments more power to raise sales taxes for transportation.

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Former state lawmaker Edward Lindsey of Atlanta, a member of that transportation task force in search of dollars, has an argument posted on GeorgiaPundit.com with a biblical beginning:

Two thousand years ago there was a thriving commercial center and port on the coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) called Ephesus. In order to maintain its viability, the port had to be regularly dredged of silt deposits washed in by the Cayster River. Over time, however, the Ephesian government lost the will to maintain its port’s infrastructure, and, as it turned to marshland, the once mighty commercial center withered into ancient ruins.

… The question before us now is how to upgrade our transportation infrastructure to meet our growing needs created by our earlier successes, because urban areas – even historically great ones like Ephesus or Metro Atlanta – are perpetually either in a period of growth and greater prosperity or steady decline. There is no standing still. Either we meet the infrastructure needs of our community or we slowly wither and die.

The historical comparison is an apt one. As Lindsey said, Ephesus, which gets a mention in the Book of Revelation, sat along the Cayster River. Which is also known as the Meander River, whence we get the word for blundering about without goal or purpose.

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Both Gov. Nathan Deal and Democrat rival Jason Carter are making a whistlestop tours of schools across the state this week to welcome students back to classrooms.

You can bet Carter’s campaign will have reminders of past budget pain at the ready each step of the way.

Deal visited Henry County’s Timber Ridge Elementary on Tuesday. Shortly after he left, we received an email from Democrats noting that tight budgets forced the county to furlough teachers for five days the last school year, and adding that the school system lost 69 teachers since 2009.

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Georgia’s Medicaid rolls are growing, but by how much depends on who’s doing the counting. From well-known health reporter Andy Miller:

Federal figures show Georgia’s Medicaid and PeachCare enrollment jumped 16 percent since October – the highest percentage increase among states that have rejected the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The Georgia jump greatly exceeds that of the second-highest increase among non-expansion states: 9.5 percent in Montana….

Yet Georgia Medicaid officials Monday released figures that showed a much smaller percentage hike in Medicaid and PeachCare enrollment since October – 5.6 percent, rising by more than 100,000 to almost 1.9 million members.

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Opponents of a federal proposal that would force online retailers to collect sales tax on some purchases have fresh ammunition.

A statewide poll by the National Taxpayers Union and the conservative R Street Institute found that 57 percent of likely Georgia voters are opposed to the Marketplace Fairness Act, which passed the Senate last year but was bottled up in the House.

“Any candidate who had numbers like this Internet tax collection scheme would have to seriously reconsider his or her political future,” said Pete Sepp, the union’s president.

The fate of the act has already surfaced in Georgia’s Senate race. GOP nominee David Perdue’s Republican rivals attacked him for supporting the controversial proposal, though he has now said he would not vote for it.

The bill has the backing of many local leaders — including Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal — and brick-and-mortar retailers. Conservative groups, and much of Georgia’s GOP delegation in Washington, view it, in effect, as a tax hike.

One solution some opponents are pushing is an origin-based principle that bases the tax collections on the location of the seller and not the buyer. But critics of that plan say it would simply drive online retailers to states that have no sales tax.

(The statewide survey of 400 likely Georgia voters was conducted June 2-3 by live telephone interviewing, and the margin of error was 5 percent.)

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Following Michelle Nunn’s first attack ad in the U.S. Senate race, the Georgia GOP released a lengthy rebuttal.

It pointed out that, even as Nunn hit David Perdue for outsourcing at his companies, Nunn had a fundraiser thrown for her by John Rice, who oversaw the overseas operations for a big-time outsourcer, General Electric. Also, Sam Nunn served for 16 years on GE’s board after he left the Senate, pulling in millions.

The Republicans also tried to deploy Politifact against Nunn, but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Politifact rated “mostly false” an accusation from a Jack Kingston ad that: “Perdue mismanaged Pillowtex, and nearly 8,000 people got laid off.” Why?

“It was a firm in bad shape that hired a business leaders known for rejuvenating industries – often through job losses.

“Investors don’t view that strategy as mismanagement, even if populists would object to it. Kingston would have been on firmer ground to make the populist point and let voters decide the merits.”

The Nunn ad states: “He was CEO of another company that went bankrupt. Thousands lost jobs, but Perdue made millions.” The same caveats apply — Pillowtex was emerging from bankruptcy when Perdue arrived, then it went under again after he left — but Nunn does not go as far as Kingston with the “mismanagement” accusation that earned the Politifact wrist slap.

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As part of mending ties after the primary, U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue has removed from public Internet view some of his rougher GOP primary stuff, such as this attack ad on Jack Kingston from the runoff.

But fear not, the “Babies” ad lives on.

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Ending Spending Action Fund is keeping up its anti-Michelle Nunn TV buy, reporting another $114,433 in ad time to the Federal Election Commission. The Super PAC now has spent $1.3 million going after the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate this year, in addition to the primary attacks on Rep. Phil Gingrey.

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NRCC's fake news site targeting John Barrow (via National Journal)

NRCC’s fake news site targeting John Barrow (via National Journal)

The National Republican Congressional Committee is getting into the news business, sort of.

National Journal had a fascinating scoop Tuesday about how the committee is going after Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta, and other vulnerable Dems by creating fake news sites and targeting local web searchers.

Here’s how it works:

The NRCC’s single-page sites are designed to appear to be a local news portal, with logos like “North County Update” or “Central Valley Update.” The articles begin in the impartial voice of a political fact-checking site, hoping to lure in readers. “We’ll take a look at her record and let you decide,” starts one. Then they gradually morph into more biting language. At the very bottom, in a box, is the disclaimer that the NRCC paid for the site.

“This is a new and effective way to disseminate information to voters who are interested in learning the truth about these Democratic candidates,” said Andrea Bozek, communications director for the NRCC.

Political strategists on both sides of the aisle say voters have generally grown weary and dubious of political attacks that are accompanied by dark clouds and ominous music. Wrapping an attack in the innocuous language of fact-checking, then, makes it more likely to sink in.

The NRCC got in trouble last year for making fake campaign pages for their targeted Democrats, in apparent violation of campaign finance law. Again, from the National Journal:

Just as the NRCC did last year with the faux-candidate sites, the group is promoting its look-alike news sites through Google search ads. So when a voter in Democratic Rep. John Barrow’s Georgia district, for instance, searches the congressman’s name on Google, the first ad that shows up leads to the faux news site.

The URL that appears in the ad is www.electionupdate2014.com and the text says “Find Out More About John Barrow. We’ll Provide The Facts: You Decide.” Once a person lands on the page, the banner at the top reads “Augusta Update” (a city in Barrow’s district) and the article begins, “Today, we’re reviewing Barrow’s record to see if his campaign rhetoric matches his record.”

The rest of the site is less charitable: “That kind of record doesn’t sound like someone who puts Georgia first. It sounds like someone who has put President Obama ahead of his constituents.”

National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher ran this tactic by campaign finance experts, who said it does not appear illegal — though Democrats are, of course, raising a fuss.

Bozek’s retort to NJ: “They’re just jealous,” she said, “that they didn’t think of this strategy first.”

 

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Funeral services will be held Thursday at the Rochelle, Ga., United Methodist Church for former state representative Newt Hudson, a 20-year south Georgia veteran of the state Capitol who left office in 2003.

We were looking for a photo of Hudson and came across this 1999 snap, labeled “Uncles.” The caption explains all:

(Left to right) State Sen. Billy Ray; Billy Ray's uncle, state Rep. Robert Ray; state Rep. Scott Dix; and Scott Dix's uncle, state Rep. Newt Hudson. AJC/Charlotte Teagle

(Left to right) State Sen. Billy Ray; Billy Ray’s uncle, state Rep. Robert Ray; state Rep. Scott Dix; and Scott Dix’s uncle, state Rep. Newt Hudson. AJC/Charlotte Teagle

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