Political Notes — Tomlinson is new SRTA director

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Chris Tomlinson was officially named executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) through a unanimous vote Wednesday by the SRTA board.

Tomlinson’s appointment had been requested earlier by Gov. Nathan Deal. He replaces Gena Evans, former Department of Transportation (GDOT) commissioner, as head of the tollway authority.

Tomlinson formerly was general counsel for GDOT, where he was in charge of legal services, human resources, and the agency’s legislative unit. When he moved to SRTA, he initially was deputy executive director and general counsel.

SRTA operates the Georgia 400 tollway, which will stop collecting tolls this fall, and administers the “HOT lanes” along I-85 in Gwinnett County.

Don’t invite these two guys to the same party

With the fate of a lobbyist spending bill still hanging in the balance, one of Georgia’s loudest voices for ethics reform has been drawn into a feud with one of the state’s most powerful legislators, House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal (R-Bonaire).

The dispute involves robocalls that Common Cause Georgia is sending to voters in legislative districts, including O’Neal’s, whose representatives are on the conference committee that has been tasked with forging a compromise on the legislative ethics bill

The script for the robocalls reads:

Limits mean limits – why can’t Georgia legislators understand that?

Right now a special committee is creating a compromise bill on limiting lobbyists gifts to legislators, but both sides want to still allow certain unlimited gifts. Your Representative – Larry O’Neal is one of six members of this committee – he gets to decide.

Please call him right now at 404-656-5052 and tell him not to allow lobbyists to spend unlimited dollars on gifts to public officials. This is William Perry with Common Cause Georgia, thank you.

Perry said he forwarded a copy of the script to O’Neal as a courtesy, triggering this pointed response from the majority leader:

“Thank you for your incredibly sagacious suggestions. Whoever is paying you off is sure getting their money’s worth. PS, have you gotten your ethics fines settled? Sent from my iPhone”

Perry declared in a news release that he was “shocked” by O’Neal’s response.

He acknowledged paying two fines to the state ethics commission “for making a mistake by filing his lobbyist reports a few days after reporting deadlines.”

“Perry is the first to admit he made mistakes, but points out he made amends by paying the fines as soon as he realized he missed the deadlines,” said Perry, referring to himself in the third person.

Another union bill could pass

House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta) is attempting an end run to get one of his anti-union bills passed this session.

Several weeks ago, Lindsey introduced and the House passed HB 362, which would prohibit state and local government agencies from requiring union labor as part of a construction project.

HB 362 stalled in committee when it got to the Senate, in part because Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council are issuing the bonds for the construction of a new football stadium for Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, a project that likely will involve union workers.

Lindsey found another bill dealing with similar subject matter, however, and attached the language of HB 362 to that measure (SB 179) as an amendment.

SB 179, in its original form, would have done away with the requirement for a bid bond for a public works contract in situations where a sealed competitive proposal was requested and price or project cost was not a selection or evaluation factor.

The Lindsey-fied version of SB 179 was approved by the House last week, but the Senate has yet to vote on whether it will agree to the changes in the bill.

HOPE Grants and community colleges

The House of Representatives is balking at the idea of technical colleges renaming themselves as “community colleges.”

The House disagreed Tuesday with the Senate version of HB 372, which would lower the grade point average requirement for a technical college student’s HOPE Grant eligibility from 3.0 to the 2.0 level that was in force two years ago.

The Senate added the language about technical colleges renaming themselves, but the House evidently is not okay with that.

Wait until next year

While legislators finish up their work on bills that need to pass this year, other measures are being introduced so that they can be studied in the months leading up to the 2014 legislative session.

Reps. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) and Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) said they’re introducing a bill on Thursday to eliminate the state’s 6 percent income tax by raising the state sales tax and repealing some of the “exceptions and exemptions” in the current tax code.

“This bill is the beginning of a discussion to eliminate the state income tax in Georgia,” Kirby said, adding that the goal is to eliminate exemptions and raise the sales tax so that the legislation is “revenue neutral.”

“Tennessee and Florida are two states that border us with no income tax,” Kirby said. “This is going to be a very important tool that’s going to help us stay competitive.”

He contended that a 3 percent boost in the state sales tax could replace the income tax, which is currently the largest source of state revenue.

Alan Essig, director of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, estimated it would take a larger sales tax increase than that to maintain revenue neutrality.

“To match today’s revenues, the sales tax would rise to more than 11 percent and combine with the local sales levy to exceed 15 percent in some counties,” Essig said. “Georgia would have the highest sales tax in the region and the state’s economy would suffer because of it.”

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) is sponsoring HB 665, a “shell” bill that is intended to serve as a legislative vehicle for the potential incorporation of new cities of “Druid Hills” or “Briarcliff” in DeKalb County.

“We have to file a cityhood bill in 2013 so my constituents can have the option to move the legislation forward in 2014,” Oliver said. “It is a two-year process and I want my neighbors and community to be able to participate fully. There is a lot of work to do to decide if these cities are viable financially and I want the work to begin as soon as possible.”

Oliver’s bill has been assigned to the House Governmental Affairs Committee, whose rules require municipality bills to go through a two-year process that begins in the first year of a Generally Assembly term.

The rule provides time for a feasibility study to be conducted on the proposed city during the months between legislative sessions.

© 2013 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Chris Tomlinson , Common Cause Georgia , DeKalb cities , Ed Lindsey , ethics bill , HOPE Grants , Larry O\'Neal , Mary Margaret Oliver , SRTA , union bills , William Perry