Budget drives policy— and vice versa

  As the legislative session winds to a close, many have focused on what did not pass this year, including two of the most controversial pieces of legislation: casino gambling and Certificate of Need reform. Both will likely return for legislative consideration next year, and both have been, rightly or wrongly, linked to the most important bill of every year, the budget. Every year, Georgia legislators pass two budgets or appropriations acts: the “big budget” for the next fiscal year and the “little budget,” which consists of the appropriations for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30. It is often repeated that passing a budget is the General Assembly’s only constitutional obligation. In many ways, it is also its most important for several reasons. First, unlike the federal government and states that are near bankruptcy like Illinois and California, Georgia is one of many states that has a balanced budget amendment. This means that Georgia cannot run a deficit, and should revenues fall short of what was anticipated in the Governor’s revenue estimate, the Governor is empowered to withold however much of each appropriation necessary to be sure that the state does not fall into the red. During the economic downturn of 2008-2010, this practice was frequently utilized, as the State spent anywhere from 4% to 6% less than the General Assembly appropriated in some of the years. Second, depending on one’s perspective, the budget to drive policy or policy decisions can drive the budget. This is particularly true when budgets are down, but it is also true when revenues are up and there...

A Georgian Reflects on Millennials

  Millennials, at least the ones I know, are a complex and evolving generation. They have grown up in a diverse and global environment. They don’t watch TV as much as previous generations, and most have never owned a vinyl record or a CD. Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump are the presidents they know. Gay activism is their civil rights experience. Racial equality is more of a given; they focus less on skin surface, and are less concerned with defining identity with labels and norms. They use words like gender-fluid and love urban catch phrases. Coming of age in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, they are the first generation in awhile to have more tools but less money. Millennials don’t tend to look back. They know nothing of post World War II America or its Silent Generation. JFK and MLK are their Washington and Lincoln. Millennials innovate in an age where they stay tethered together for life through the internet and social media. They have developed mechanisms for building emotional relationships with people they have never met face to face. Hand shakes and all that they signify are so 20th century to them. Non-Millennials can no more understand Millennials than they can put the Star Wars franchise into the correct movie order. Spoiler alert: Luke Skywalker meeting Obi-Wan Kanobi is chapter four not one. If you do not know this, you are so 2000 and late. Nobody told them that a college education might lead to flipping burgers or making coffee. It upsets them that life isn’t fair. Millennials get a bad rap but most of...

Ehrhart bill restores due process to college rape cases

  There is finally some good news in the fight to return rape investigations and prosecutions to the only place they belong: the real justice system. Georgia House Bill 51 sponsored by Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, passed out of the House and now moves to the Georgia Senate. “House Bill 51 is about due process, safety on our campuses … and rights of the accused,” Ehrhart said. HB 51 (bill tracking here) requires colleges and universities to report all allegations of sexual assault to real law enforcement instead of doing what they do now, which is subject students accused of sexual assault to extralegal kangaroo “courts” run by the schools. These Kafkaesque tribunals shun the usual standard of proof in criminal proceedings – beyond a reasonable doubt – in favor of the significantly weaker balance of probabilities standards used in civil law. (Editor’s note: Dr. Trent wrote about the sex-crimes star chamber at Amherst College on Feb. 2. Read that post here.) Of course, the Obama administration sided with the radical feminist lynch mob on this issue. As Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson wrote in late 2015: For more than four years, the White House and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) have used an implausible reinterpretation of a 1972 civil-rights law to impose mandates unimagined by the law’s sponsors. It has forced almost all of the nation’s universities and colleges to disregard due process in disciplinary proceedings when they involve allegations of sexual assault. Enforced by officials far outside the mainstream, these mandates are having a devastating impact on the nation’s universities and on...

CFPB Actions Have Real Life Consequences for Communities of Color

    Last June the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB] proposed a rule to severely restrict access to short-term loans.  Although I have no doubt that the CFPB meant well in crafting its rule, the unintended consequences this rule creates for communities of color and the poor make it an unworkable solution that only stands to do more harm than good. It just doesn’t work! I am the President and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a nationwide advocacy organization committed to the principles of economic, social and political justice.  We have a network of local chapters and affiliates that work hard to represent those on the margins of society and bring the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to our nation in the 21st century.  In my work, I’ve seen firsthand how well-intended legislation can have a dramatic and unintended negative effect on the very people it was intended to help.  The CFPB’s latest proposal is a prime example. Whether the CFPB likes it or not, the fact is that short-term, small-dollar lenders are often the only financial institutions willing to serve communities of color and poor people.  They are critical lifelines when a child gets sick or a car breaks down.  If this proposed rule goes into effect, entire swaths of our community will be left without access to credit. According to the CFPB’s own estimates, residents in under-served and minority communities will be disproportionately impacted by the proposed rule.  Non-bank lenders in these communities stand to lose up to 84 percent of their revenue, which would likely put two out of every three out of...

Nuclear Power Must Remain an Option for Energy & Jobs

  Interviews with laid off coal miners in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s victory may be anecdotal, but they’re a reminder of the demise of just one industry that has provided generations of families with well-paying, blue collar jobs that have been lost to new environmental regulations. The Trump Administration inherited President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which will result in cleaner and more expensive power production – and energy-related job losses – well into Trump’s presidency. In this context, the U. S. Energy Information Administration projects a total of 92 gigawatts of coal-fueled capacity will retire by 2030 – about 30 percent more (32 GW) without Obama’s EPA Clean Power Plan requirement. That’s a lot of coal-fueled power plants and thousands, if not millions, of jobs that will continue to disappear on Trump’s watch – due to U. S. government regulations – not international competitors or unbridled immigration. Combined with lower natural gas prices and the extension of renewable tax credits, Obama’s plan will accelerate utilities’ shift toward less carbon-intensive generation. That’s good news for the environment – and bad news for American workers and the country’s energy future. The huge contributions that coal-fueled plants make to the electric energy grid are being replaced largely by natural-gas fueled generators. These plants emit significantly fewer pollutants than coal, and are capable of meeting large, base-load energy demands. And since most U.S. utilities have given up on nuclear, and already use natural gas to meet base load and peak needs, America is well on its way to becoming overly dependent on natural gas as a source of electricity. While we...

H.B. 353 Aims to Protect Title Pawn Consumers from Debt

  It is sad that all too many Georgians, whatever their situation, have a history of not paying back their debts— and that in turn means banks and other financial institutions avoid lending to these high-risk individuals. So, when they need financial assistance, their legal options are very limited. The good news, though, is that Georgians with bad or no credit have the option of pledging their car title to receive fast, short-term financial help. Many of these title pawn customers are contractors who need cash right away to start a job. They have a clear title on their vehicle, but bad credit. If they can’t buy their supplies, they can’t do the job. Indeed, without the title pawn option, many consumers would be forced to sell their vehicle in time of need. The knock on these transactions is that they are high interest and can be rolled over indefinitely– potentially creating a cycle of debt for consumers– and that excess proceeds should be returned when a car is repossessed. While a high interest rate is understandable (they are high-risk consumers, mostly with titles to old or unreliable cars), I have introduced House Bill 353 to help end the cycle of debt and return excess proceeds to consumers. HB 353 allows title pawn companies the ability to offer customers an amortized product that results in a zero balance at the end of the term of the transaction. The pawn cannot be rolled-over, there is no early prepayment penalty, no balloon payments and no elevated interest on this transaction. It also requires the companies to return any excess proceeds to...

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