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Legislature: The boys are back in town

Posted: Sunday, January 10, 2010

The General Assembly is back in session as of Monday, but it's going to be very different this year when our lawmakers gather under the Gold Dome.

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The change will be most evident in the House of Representatives, where Glenn Richardson will no longer be picking a fight every time he picks up the speaker's gavel. It just won't be the same without Richardson losing his temper as he accuses Gov. Sonny Perdue of "baring his backside" or dares Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to "stand up and be a man."

The new speaker, most likely Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, tends to be quieter and calmer in dealing with his colleagues. He's a conciliator, not a fighter.

It's not as if there is going to be much to fight over. The recession has forced the governor to cut and cut and cut again from state spending, and lawmakers will probably have to whack another $400 million or more from the budget just to keep it in balance.

Ralston has already said there won't be any tax increases adopted this session to pay for new programs or government services, a stance the Republican majority will surely uphold.

That means no new money for local schools, after a period when Perdue and the legislature have already cut state formula funding to public systems by a combined total of nearly $2 billion.

That also means no money to start building all those reservoirs that will be needed to supply Atlanta and north Georgia if a federal judge's order to cut off access to Lake Lanier by 2012 remains in effect.

After fighting for the past two sessions over a special sales tax for highway construction, the House and Senate might finally be able to agree on legislation authorizing counties in urban areas to call a joint referendum on a penny sales tax for road projects.

If that special tax should pass, it won't generate nearly enough revenue to pay for all the improvements that are needed in the state's transportation systems. The money from that new tax also would not start rolling in for two or three years - and those transportation improvements are needed now.

If there's no money in the budget and most tax increases are a forbidden topic of discussion, how will our lawmakers occupy their time during the 40 days they are in Atlanta? Even with the big issues off the table, they'll always find little things to fuss over.

Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, and Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Canton, have filed legislation that would declare the healthcare reform bill making its way through Congress to be "unconstitutional" and would prohibit the federal government from enforcing its mandates on Georgians.

I'm sure those measures will inspire some eloquent speeches on states' rights when they come up for a floor vote, but the sponsors are in for a deep disappointment. The issue of which side prevails in this type of dispute - the federal government or the states - was decided about 150 years ago during the unpleasantness called the Civil War.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, will continue his efforts to repeal the law allowing cities to use cameras that automatically take pictures of vehicles running red lights and mail tickets to the owners. Loudermilk and other lawmakers contend that these red light cameras should be prohibited because local governments only use them to raise revenues.

Of course, that concern about raising revenues didn't stop legislators from passing the "super speeder" law that just went into effect this month - a law intended to raise money for trauma care by adding $200 to the fine for a speeding ticket.

There are some diehard legislators who want to eliminate any remaining restrictions on firearms in public places and make it legal to take guns anywhere, even into schools and mental institutions.

Now that's a great idea: put firearms within reach of adolescents and mental patients. I'm surprised the General Assembly didn't pass that one years ago.

The bottom line is, you shouldn't expect much from your legislators this year. There's no money to spend on the problems that are really holding the state back, which means they will spend most of their time arguing about the silly stuff.

In other words, it will be a typical legislative session.

(Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at www.gareport.com.)



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