The Commerce News
January 24, 2001
Parents Failing, So Shift Job To State's Schools
My heart goes out to the parents of 17-year-old drivers killed
in Atlanta area wrecks, parents who now want the state to make
driver education mandatory in the schools.
Still, it seems to me that they are, in essence, suggesting that
their daughters would be alive if they'd taken driver education
that, since it was not available, it is the state's fault
their children died.
A handful of tragic accidents in Atlanta has the General Assembly
poised to impose tougher driving restrictions on younger drivers
and to mandate driver education. News stories about the parents'
comments supporting Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor's teen driving proposals
did not say what caused the accidents that killed the two girls.
Perhaps neither was at fault.
But, as Ronald Reagan might say, "There you go again,"
turning to the school system to pick up after parental failings.
Because parents are not teaching their children to drive safely,
local school systems and local taxpayers will be held responsible.
Years ago, my insurance agent admitted that there was no evidence
to suggest that graduates of driver education courses were less
likely to cause accidents than students who did not take driver's
education. I suspect the evidence is still lacking.
Essentially, lawmakers, many of whom ran on the principal that
smaller government is better government, want schools to do what
parents should be doing. Parents want to be able to hand the
keys to a new car to their son or daughter and know that the
kid is a safe driver.
It doesn't work that way, driver ed or no driver ed.
Too many kids are handed new cars when they turn 16. But, even
worse, they are allowed to go wherever they please, whenever
they wish, and Mom and Dad not only pay for the car, but for
the gasoline, insurance and upkeep. Some kids are mature enough
to drive responsibly at 16; some are not mature enough at 21.
Both of my children had access to vehicles when they were 16.
We had both of them take driver education with David Cash. They
could drive to and from school, period. Later, they gained other
privileges, but for months, they had to ask us if it was permissible
for them to drive to Wal-Mart at the south end of town. They
were initially prohibited from taking other passengers with them,
and I think Laura was probably 18 before we let her drive to
Riding with a teenage driver can be traumatic, but it is necessary.
By the time Steven was ready to drive, I realized I'd not spent
as much time as I needed working with Laura and vowed not to
repeat that mistake with him. I made him drive everywhere we
went, screaming at him to "maintain your lane," or
caustically asking him if he knew what the speed limit was. His
car, a 1963 VW Beetle, was not likely to exceed many speed limits.
Driver's education won't hurt, but the real driver education
needs to come from parents. Unfortunately, lawmakers and many
parents would rather have a quick legislative fix and turn the
responsibility over to someone else.
It's a frequent and shameful scenario: parents don't do their
jobs, so responsibility is shifted to the schools.
The Jackson Herald
January 24, 2001
important to county
Last week's news article showing the breakdown of the tax digest
is another indication of the dramatic changes taking place in
Jackson County. Since 1995,the value of taxable property in the
county has nearly doubled, showing the rapid growth of the area.
The makeup of the digest also shows how the county is slowly
changing from rural agricultural to an exurban community. In
1995, 24 percent of the tax digest was agricultural. For 2000,
that had dropped to 17 percent.
On the other hand, residential housing as a percentage of the
tax base has gone from 33 percent in 1995 to 41 percent in 2000.
But despite a lot of commercial and industrial developments,
that as a percentage of the total tax base has remained about
the same: 31 percent in 1995 to 33 percent in 2000.
Of course, some of the change has to do with the increased use
of the conservation use tax break given to agricultural property.
With 82,400 acres under the program, some $96 million comes off
the tax digest, thus lowering the overall percentage allotted
But what all these numbers really tell us is that the pace of
our housing growth is more than that of our business growth.
That could have some rather dire consequences for the county
in years to come if housing continues to grow in importance to
the overall tax base. If housing goes above the 50 percent mark,
the political dynamics in Jackson County will shift dramatically.
What this means in practical terms is that while our county has
seen a lot of industrial and commercial development during the
last five years, we cannot afford to let that growth slide. Not
only do those businesses provide jobs, but they also provide
a much-needed source of income to our local governments. In order
to keep our tax rates low, we will have to have those large business
taxpayers. Residential development will not carry the burden
that growth creates.
But not only do we need business growth for property taxes, but
we also need commercial projects that will generate sales tax
income to local governments. While the Tanger Outlet Center near
Commerce is a major source of sales tax for the county, the rest
of Jackson County suffers from a lack of retail development.
That's especially true in the Jefferson area where, despite its
central location, commercial development has lagged.
The upshot is that our county and city governments, along with
the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, should continue
to pursue good industrial and business projects. We cannot afford
to allow Jackson County to become a bedroom community.
Jackson County Opinion Index
The Jackson Herald
January 24, 2001
Flag debate a
Back in the days of the Soviet Union, both that country and ours
adopted a policy called M.A.D., an acronym for Mutual Assured
Destruction. The policy was based on the idea that if one nation
launched a nuclear attack on the other, the retaliation would
be just as bad as the initial attack. Both countries would be
destroyed and that knowledge was the premise on which the peace
would be maintained.
The policy worked during the cold war, but I'm not sure if it
will survive the looming debate on proposals to change the Georgia
state flag. If that issue evolves into a full legislative action,
both sides may well be destroyed in the process. Whatever the
outcome, there will be no winners, only losers.
It is this knowledge which has kept the debate under wraps the
past couple of years. After Gov. Zell Miller unsuccessfully attempted
to change the flag in the early 1990s, both sides took a low
profile. A lot of legislators hoped that it wouldn't come up
again because they know it will be ugly.
I say all of that as someone who really doesn't care if the flag
is changed or not. It won't improve education in Georgia, or
add to our infrastructure, or do any of the other important things
that state government should be doing.
But if the flag debate does gain steam, here's what may happen:
First, the extremists on both sides will get most of the focus.
Civil rights activists from across the nation will descend on
Georgia, hoping for their 15 minutes of fame. They will rail
against the state, threaten boycotts and organize marches and
protests all around the state capitol. The national television
networks will lap it up and CNN will broadcast it to the world.
In their wings will be the Atlanta business boosters who quake
at the thought of a boycott. These mostly-white, upper-class
business leaders will paint a picture of economic devastation
if the flag isn't changed. Their focus isn't on the flag issue
per se, but rather on the effect the debate may have on tourism.
They will call for changing the flag to preserve economic growth
for their firms and the state.
The focus on the other side of the issue will be on those extremists
who flock to Georgia to wrap themselves in a St. Andrews' Cross.
Every unkempt, tobacco-spitting redneck in the nation will come
here to participate in counter-marches and the television cameras
will eat them up like candy on Christmas morning. The very people
most responsible for misappropriating the flag's Confederate
emblem will be the ones who get the air time.
Not seen on camera, however, will be those reasonable men and
women on both sides of the issue whose attitudes are more thoughtful,
but less colorful. Any reasonable debate that might take place
inside the state capitol will be drowned out by bellicose activists
marching and chanting on the outside.
The result will be a further polarizing of racial tensions in
the state. Feelings that have been pent up for several years
will be unleashed on both sides.
Radical black activists will further alienate many moderate whites
with bellicose attitudes of victimization and demands for changing
something that won't do anything to help black citizens trapped
in a cycle of cultural degeneration.
Likewise, radical white rednecks will alienate other moderates
with their taint of the state flag by association and their obvious
But as these two sides destroy each other with their venom, so
too will many moderates be drawn into the fray, not so much in
support of one side as they will have been repulsed by the attitudes
of the other.
Left in the middle will be those few moderates who have no stomach
for any side of the issue; those repulsed by sanctimonious and
self-serving black leaders; those repulsed by the Chicken Little
business elite who sit in their all-white country clubs fretting
over a boycott; and those repulsed by white rednecks who give
an image of the South as little more than Tobacco Road on steroids.
Moderate voices will have no place in this debate; no room at
the table will be made for those who hold sincere but differing
views. Only the radicals will get the attention, television air
time and reporters' ink.
Which makes we wonder: Do we really need a state flag?
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
January 24, 2001
PSC Decision Makes
No Business Sense
What in the world were the five members of the Georgia Public
Service Commission thinking when they voted to allow natural
gas consumers to switch gas marketing companies even when they
owe money to their current provider?
About the only leverage utility companies have over consumers
with delinquent bills is to terminate their service. Because
of the high bills caused by the combination of record prices
for gas and a record cold December, many consumers were unable
to pay their December gas bills. The PSC voted to prohibit gas
suppliers from cutting those customers off until April 5.
To a certain percentage of consumers, the PSC has guaranteed
free natural gas this winter. There is a certain percentage of
the public out to get a free ride, and these people will simply
refuse to pay their gas bills until the deadline, then switch
gas companies. The gas company holding the several hundred dollars'
worth of debt then gets stuck with the bill, because it has no
leverage left with which to force payment.
Clearly the members who voted for the switch-before-paying motion
(the vote was 5-2, with Chairman Bubba McDonald and commissioner
Stan Wise voting against it) have never operated businesses before
or they would know the difficulties businesses face with people
trying to beat them out of money. The result will be that consumers
who do faithfully pay their bills will be charged even more,
because in any business, loss by theft becomes part of the operating
overhead and must be compensated for in the price of the product.
It would have made a lot more sense to allow customers to switch
gas companies as often as they wish but only when their
bills are paid fully.
It just isn't good business to encourage consumers to scam the
gas companies. That decision will cost Georgia gas marketing
companies hundreds of thousands of dollars and could well force
them to increase their charges to other consumers.