It hurt just hearing about it: State Sen. Bill Jackson couldn't make it to the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Post-Legislative Breakfast Thursday because he was at home recovering from kidney stones.
The pain that sent him to the doctor set in after a four-hour motorcycle ride this past weekend to south Georgia, which itself seems like it would have been painful enough.
Here's wishing the senator a speedy recovery.
Meanwhile, the absence of Jackson and of state Rep. Lee Anderson meant more focus on the speakers at the top of the agenda. Then state Rep. Barbara Sims also gave up her speaking time to the remaining officials.
As a result, the report card on the recent legislative session came from our own state Rep. Ben Harbin and from the main speaker for the event, House Speaker David Ralston.
Despite all the doom and gloom that dominated this year's session, their report was still better than the last time a House speaker visited a Chamber breakfast. That was in November 2007, when Glenn Richardson came to town to trumpet his proposal for replacing the state's property taxes with a sales tax.
Alas for him, it wasn't a trumpet that sounded his exit, but a strumpet: Richardson's now-ex-wife blew the whistle on Richardson's affair with a hot blond lobbyist, leading to Richardson's political demise.
That, of course, set the stage for the ascension of the much-less-volatile Ralston to the speaker's post. And the first person he talked to, he said Thursday, was Harbin.
Together, the two of them had significant influence on shepherding the state Legislature through the recent budget-dominated session. Some of it at times seemed perhaps more painful than passing kidney stones " for example, Ralston noted the protests from university students misled by turf-protecting college bosses.
When the dust cleared from the marathon session, though, the state had managed to balance its budget " as required by the state Constitution " by cutting spending some 20 percent.
"We don't have a printing press in Georgia," Ralston said. "We can't run a deficit. It's tough in an era like this."
The state's lawmakers managed the balancing act without having to call an expensive special session and without raising taxes, he said.
The latter point actually should have some sort of asterisk. While they can claim they didn't "raise taxes," lawmakers did raise a laundry list of fees charged for state services. And they've put a couple of other voluntary tax or fee hikes on upcoming ballots, including a $10 charge added to tag fees to fund a state trauma care network.
Still, the accomplishment is nothing to sneeze at. More importantly, though, think of the bullet the state dodged.
If Richardson had been able to push through the tax plan he bragged about here in 2007, the state could have shifted to relying on an unpredictable sales tax just as the economy went in the toilet.
Think passing a kidney stone is painful? The result of that disaster would have been like passing Stone Mountain, and would have made the current 6 percent reduction to education spending seem like a paper cut.
Incidentally, the members of our legislative delegation back at that 2007 breakfast joined in the usual back-slapping praise for Richardson, mostly applauding his "courage" for promoting tax reform.
The new speaker, Ralston, will actually deserve the praise if the new tax reform task force he helped create is able to put in place BRAC-like restructuring of the state's tax system, making it "flatter and fairer," as he hopes.
And Richardson's tenure will be flushed into history.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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