Jackson County Opinions...

JANUARY 21, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
January 21, 2004

Maybe Georgians Just Aren’t Gambling Enough
In a way, Lt. Governor Mark Taylor was right in stating that increased spending by Georgia colleges has drained HOPE scholarship funds.
Taylor was justly criticized for suggesting that “greed” in colleges and universities was the culprit, but he was absolutely right in saying, “Need to build more buildings? HOPE was there. Need to build a new parking deck or a new athletic facility? HOPE was there. Need to raise tuition 15 percent a year? HOPE was there.”
I can’t balance a checkbook, but even I knew when lottery funds first became available that costs for colleges and universities would increase dramatically to absorb the new money. It’s a simple law of public economics: costs will increase to consume all money available (and often more).
This is exactly what would happen at private schools were the long-sought school vouchers made universal. Private schools, awash with state or federal money, would build more classrooms, more athletic facilities and raise tuition until all of the voucher money was absorbed. Many would be forced to raise tuition just to keep out the kinds of kids they really would rather not have in the first place or risk losing their core affluent customer base.
The other downside for the private schools is that once they began accepting state or federal funds, they would also have to accept state or federal regulations – the very bureaucratic web many educators say has undermined public schools. The best thing private schools have going for them is the ability to discipline – expel if necessary – students who do not conform to the schools’ expectations. That will be more difficult once private schools get to feed at the public trough.
What also helped drain HOPE was the elimination of income restraints on families of HOPE applicants. That move increased HOPE costs by funding college for children who would have gone to college anyway. Both of our children were going to college regardless of HOPE, but we were (and still are) appreciative of the state’s largess – and thankful that the HOPE funds lasted as long as Steven’s eligibility.
HOPE was designed to give hope of going to college to children from low-income families, but it also provided hope of an education subsidy to families like mine where state assistance was not crucial to getting an education.
(We are quick to criticize the poor in society as freeloaders, but the middle and upper classes are just as receptive to accepting a government hand-out.)
The state has three choices: It can appropriate other state funds to HOPE and keep eligibility widespread; it can restrict the number of applicants by a variety of means from income restrictions to tougher academic standards; or it can reduce the number of dollars going to each recipient.
The first option is too costly, the second a political minefield and the third will deny college admission to many of the people for which HOPE was designed.
My guess? The legislature will opt for none of the above. Instead, it will decide to market the lottery more aggressively so that more people will gamble. Call me a cynic.

The Commerce News
January 21, 2004

Commandments Debate Detracts From Issues
It is a reflection of the times that the Ten Commandments will highlight the legislative agenda for the Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives.
In county after county – including Jackson – conservative politicians hope to strike a blow for their political futures by hanging the Ten Commandments in a courthouse or other public place, a gesture more political than religious. They do this knowing that they’re in opposition to the Constitutional prohibition against the government sponsorship of religion (“Hey, that’s other people’s religion, not ours.”) and aware that it will result in expensive legal challenges.
Given the emotional nature of the issue, the Ten Commandments furor can dominate public discussion at the expense of other issues more crucial to the public welfare – like education, crime, transportation and the funding of Medicaid. So, instead of debating the more serious issues, the General Assembly will invest its time and energy in a fight whose outcome will have no effect whatsoever on the quality of lives of the vast majority of Georgians just so conservatives can they stood up for God in the face of the ACLU.
In the 2003 legislative session, the General Assembly used most of its energy on the state flag debate when it should have been working on a budget dealing with severe revenue shortfalls. The 2004 focus will be the Ten Commandments. Note the trend here toward avoiding serious work on the important and complicated matters by hiding behind extended debate over emotional but largely frivolous issues.
It’s not the Ten Commandments that are frivolous – it’s the notion that by hanging them politicians – who routinely break the “thou shalt not bear false witness” commandment when seeking office – are doing something other than promoting their religion or the religious beliefs of their constituents. If these people want to please God, let them consistently obey the Ten Commandments rather than use them as a wall hanging or political prop.

We’ll Take It
The reappointment of Scott Martin, chairman of the Jackson County Industrial Development Authority, was accompanied last week by the statement that the board of commissioners found amusing an editorial regarding the appointment that ran on this page last week. They’d worked out all the conflicts well before the editorial ran, they say.
Good. If the “Commerce concerns” about economic development were addressed and put in the past, if Martin, who has done a solid job for several years is re-elected, if the IDA, board of commissioners, Commerce City Council and Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce are all working together for a change, we don’t care how it happened – or when – it’s a good thing.
It is to be expected that situations change and new facts sometimes emerge as processes develop so that by the time news or opinions reach print they are outdated. If the politicians were able to come to their senses and re-elect a dedicated public servant to an important position, so much the better.
To the BOC, Martin, Commerce officials and others involved, if the issues are truly resolved, let this paper say Well Done. And this newspaper will be among those praying that this new spirit of cooperation lasts a long time.
Jackson County boasts some of the best locations in America for potential industry. Commerce has not been selected for a major prospect, though it was close with Walgreens. For the city to become a full partner in the Jackson County industrial boom, we need teamwork from all parties involved in the process. We’ve lacked that before. We are told we have it now. We’ll take it.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
January 21, 2004

Martin’s reappointment a good move
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners did something right Monday night — it reappointed Scott Martin to the county industrial development authority.
Martin’s reappointment should have been done several weeks ago. That it wasn’t offers some insight into the political dynamics of county politics.
Martin is a young, highly-respected mover in the county. While he may not be a household name, he is widely known in the county’s business community where he holds several volunteer positions, including serving as chairman of the IDA. His work two years ago on the Toyota project led him to be this newspaper’s Newsmaker of the Year and he was recently recognized by a leading Gainesville real estate firm as a key player in Jackson County’s growth and development.
Martin is also something of a political bridge. A native of Commerce, where he continues to live, he works at Jackson Electric Membership Corporation in Jefferson. He thus has contact with a broad range of people in the county, a view that gives him a unique perspective among the county’s leadership. He is, in fact, one of the least provincial leaders in the community.
With all that in his favor, his reappointment should have been a no-brainer. But it wasn’t because of county politics. BOC chairman Harold Fletcher acknowledged as much at Monday’s meeting when he said the delay in Martin’s reappointment was due to some “concerns” of Commerce city leaders.
That concern is the fact that Martin thinks for himself and is not just a rubber stamp for the BOC or Commerce officials.
What had bugged some Commerce leaders about Martin is that he wouldn’t play games with prospective industrial projects. That was evident in the Walgreen’s project when Martin expressed some serious doubts about the size of the county’s incentives offer. Some Commerce leaders were livid that Martin questioned the details of the plan, although in the end, he did go along with the proposal.
But he asked a lot of questions along the way, questions some Commerce leaders didn’t want asked. His “loyalty” became suspect and in a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort, several officials maneuvered to have Martin ousted from the IDA.
That was especially true with BOC commissioner Sammy Thomason, who had injected himself in the Walgreen’s deal as the “lead” contact, pushing aside both Martin and chamber of commerce leaders. It was Thomason who late last year wanted someone else from Commerce to replace Martin on the IDA, someone who wouldn’t ask questions, someone who would do the bidding of the BOC and who would use the position to lure a large industry to Commerce.
But like so many ideas coming from Thomason, that was a bad one. That Martin dared to question “his” deal with Walgreen’s might have made Thomason angry, but was no reason to replace him.
Fortunately for Jackson County, wiser heads prevailed. Booting Martin off the IDA would have been a declaration of war by the BOC on the county’s business community. While the business community has been largely silent on the various political blunder’s of this BOC, including the ongoing effort to take over the county water authority, it could not have ignored such a slap in the face. To have booted Martin might have motivated a lot of business leaders to get off their hands and speak out about the deficiencies of county leadership — and this is an election year, remember.
In the end, the BOC didn’t want war with the business community. Industrial development is a partnership between elected officials and business leaders. To have split that partnership just because Thomason wanted his own “yes man” in place would have been akin to committing political and economic suicide. And it would have been dumb politics.
So the BOC did the right thing, albeit a little late. Martin deserved to be reappointed. His knowledge of economic development, his professionalism and his political independence will go a long way toward leading the county’s economic development efforts.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
January 21, 2004

General Assembly should undo school mandates
Everyone has an opinion about how to “fix” public education. But even though there are some problems in public schools, by far the worst problems are the “solutions” handed down by the state and federal governments.
Over the last 15 years, the Georgia General Assembly has been creating new mandates on local school systems, touching on everything from increased record-keeping to how many students are supposed to be in a classroom. There is no aspect of public education that is not being micro-managed by legislative fiat.
All of those rules have added huge cost burdens on public schools. Now, the Georgia Legislature is cutting back on state funding of public schools, but has left most of those mandated requirements in place.
While that may help state politicians claim a “no tax increase” during this election year, such a claim is deceiving. In fact, the cutbacks are forcing a tax increase as school systems raise property taxes to make up for the drop in state funding. In the end, taxpayers are having to pay more. The state has just shifted the burden.
We believe that state political leaders should cut many of the mandates they have imposed on local schools. While standards should be set, the decision on how best to reach those standards should be left to local school leaders, not imposed by legislative action.
In the last decade, the state government has virtually taken over all public schools in the state. The idea of “local control” has been stripped of any meaning. Local school boards have very few decisions to make because state laws preempts them. About the only decision local school boards make today are where to locate new schools. But the design of those new schools and 99 percent of what will happen within their doors is governed not by local officials, but by state laws and regulations.
We say it is time for the state government to take a step back from these mandates. If they aren’t going to fund them, then they shouldn’t be imposed.

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