Jackson County Opinions...

January 24, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
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 Athens alone.
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

Business growth 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 to agriculture.
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.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
January 24, 2001

Flag debate a M.A.D. issue
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 racism.
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.


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