Friday, August 31, 2007

Impertinent Observations

I find it amazing that Florida’s Democrats still cannot get their collective act together. The prospect of a fight between the state party and the DNC is simply too good to be true.

The DNC’s point is well taken, however; the RNC similarly is trying to put a stop to states moving their primaries up too far. If Florida moves its primary to before the first Tuesday in February, the RNC will penalize the state by reducing its number of delegates to the Republican National Convention by one-half. See Rules 15(b)(1)(i) and 16(a)(1).

North of the St Mary’s, Georgia is allotted 141 delegates and alternates to the Republican National Convention next September in St. Paul, which would make it the seventh largest state delegation – unless some states get their allotments reduced by moving their primaries ahead and the Peach State delegation moves up the list.

Locally, as of mid-afternoon on Thursday one candidate had applied for each of the three offices to be decided by Winterville’s municipal elections this coming November. Incumbent Mark Farmer qualified for reelection to one at-large council seat and local attorney Rob McNiff for the other open seat; incumbent mayor James Mercer also qualified for reelection.

Pete and the folks over at Flagpole get high marks for publishing this commentary from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Both parts can be found on the GPPF web site.

Finally, as I understand it, there is an appeal pending concerning the property tax assessment freezes applied to properties in the Downtown Local Historic District created last year (or not applied as the case may be). More information will be posted as (and if) I get it.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

357th Support Battalion Deactivation

According to this story in today’s Banner-Herald, “The 357th’s deactivation marks the second time in two years that a reserve unit has been dismantled here during the Army Reserve’s ongoing reorganization process. However, that reorganization could mean Athens will have more – not fewer – reserve units in the future.”

The fate of this Reserve unit, a function of the same BRAC process that is relocating the Navy Supply Corps School from Athens to Rhode Island, prompted thoughts on a book I’m currently making my way through, Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy by Frederick W. Kagan.

The author, a resident fellow at the
American Enterprise Institute, postulates that the failure of American involvement in Vietnam prompted various synergistic transformations beginning in the late 1970s that produced the unrivaled conventional military power America used in defeating Iraq in the first Gulf War and in overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime in the second version. However, he further thinks that the 1990s and early 2000s produced a rush to “transform” the military into an information age force dedicated to direct combat that did not fully take into account the nature of the foes the United States would face in the 21st century when dealing with terrorism, nation-building, etcetera (known as Operations Other Than War or OOTW). Anyway, if you find military policy, grand strategy, force structures, and such interesting, check it out.

Oops, I forgot that
Pat Schroeder says we GOP types don’t read books. I’ll try to do better by reading less and sloganeering more.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Social Security Fraud

Quoting from the Ponzi Scheme prosecution story in a recent edition of the Banner-Herald:

“[Security and Exchange Commission] officials claimed the pair lied about the advertising packages, which never existed, and paid initial investors with money received from subsequent investors.”

But isn’t this precisely how the Social Security program works? Money taxed from current workers is used to pay retirement benefits of current retires, not put aside for the future needs of the workers from whom the money was taken.

Contrary to popular belief, workers are not guaranteed any Social Security benefits upon their retirements by either statute or case law - in fact, the reality of the situation is precisely the opposite. Nor does the often-referenced Social Security "Trust Fund" exist in any meaningful sense; the money supposedly deposited in the fund having been applied to the federal government’s general budget as it came in over the years (with nothing but meaningless IOUs – not bonds – left in its place). The “interest” supposedly generated by the non-existent trust fund is merely an accounting gimmick consisting of IOUs as well.

If anyone other than the federal government ran a financial house of cards like this, they too would be facing jail time.

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All Things Fiscal

The purpose of this post is not to comment on the specifics contained within current local, state, or federal budgets, but rather to posit that the budgeting process is seriously out of whack. By that, I mean that expenditures always rise to meet increased revenues (or continue apace in the face of decreased revenues), regardless of the utility of new and/or increased spending.

For my part, I have made these same arguments, in person or in print, to the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County and to the Clarke County School District for some years now:

1. You will never tax your way to prosperity

2. You do not have a revenue problem, you have a spending problem; until and unless you bring spending under control, you will never have enough revenue

My appeals have fallen on deaf ears, however, as spending and budgets for either of the local bureaucracies are at record levels.

The FY08 budget for the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County is a staggering $213 million. This represents a whopping 36.15% increase over FY07. Even excluding the massive capital budget increase, the Unified Government plans to spend more than a million dollars per month more than just a year ago. Yet we are told that this is a “lean” budget - the groundwork for a millage rate increase next year having already been laid. And the folks who live in the formerly unincorporated areas of the county will continue to get squat in the way of basic governmental services such as water and sewer lines.

No to be outdone, the Clarke County School District’s budget for 2007-08 tops $117.5 million, plus another $11.8 million in reserve and contingency funds. And for that we get a 40% drop-out rate, 40% of the county’s schools failing to meet AYP standards, and test scores that fall below the state average year after year (after year after year after year . . .).

Though it pains me to say so, the folks under the Gold Dome do not appear to be doing much better. The FY08 budget for the State of Georgia is pegged at an astounding $20.23 billion. This pains me because, while Clarke County is under the heel of a self-consciously “progressive” lot ,from whom I expect profligate spending, the state government is dominated by the GOP, from whom I expect more fiscal responsibility.

And don’t even get me started on the $2.9 trillion FY08 budget at the federal level (truly a Saganesque number).

Regardless of which level of government is involved and how much money is thrown at any given “crisis,” the song always remains the same, preferably involving some appeal to help “the children:” if only we had more money. And yet, the innumerable crises that increased spending is supposed to alleviate never seem to get solved do they? Instead, they are merely superseded by another set of more and bigger crises that require even more spending. And so it goes year after year.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Winterville Municipal Elections

From the City of Winterville’s web site (with a hat tip to Donny Seagraves on the Winterville listserv):

The City of Winterville will hold a General Election on Tuesday, November 6, 2007, at Winterville Elementary School. Two Council seats and the office of Mayor will be on the ballot. Mayor [James] Mercer and Councilmember Mark Farmer will be running for reelection. For more information, call Winterville City Hall, 706-742-8600 or stop by City Hall.


August 27, 2007, 8:30 a.m. - First day for a candidate for Municipal Office to file a Notice of Candidacy.

August 31, 2007, 4:30 p.m. - Last day for a candidate for Municipal Office to file a

Notice of Candidacy.

September 7, 2007 - Last day to file and publish a Notice of Intention to be a Write-In Candidate in the Municipal General Election.

September 12, 2007 - Last day to file an affidavit stating that Notice of Intention to be a Write-In Candidate for an office has been published in accordance with O.C.G.A. 21-2-133.

October 9, 2007 - Last day a person may register and be eligible to vote in the Municipal General Election and Runoff. 21-2-224(a).

According to Seagraves, “Councilmember Courtney Spratlin resigned his council seat effective 05/23/07. Donny Seagraves is currently filling that seat until the term ends December 31, 2007, but will not be running for election to a four-year term."

And a final note from me:

Winterville’s municipal elections are conducted by the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections and are non-partisan, just like those of every other municipality (save Macon) and unified government in the state.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Commuter Rail

This piece from the current issue of Flagpole talks about the never-ending push for a commuter rail line between Atlanta and Athens. Supporters of the idea would do well to read “Urban Rail Transit Derailed” by Robert W. Poole Jr. of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and the Reason Foundation.

Poole summarizes “On the Social Desirability of Urban Rail Transit Systems,” an article by Clifford Winston and Vikram Maheshri that appears in the September 2007 issue of Journal of Urban Economics (volume 62, issue 2, pages 362-382 – the PDF can be obtained through Galileo if you have a password).

Quoting Poole, "the authors conclude that rail transit is erroneously believed by the public to be socially desirable, because 'supporters have sold [rail systems] as an antidote to the social costs associated with automobile travel, in spite of strong evidence to the contrary.' They conclude that, in fact, rail transit is “an increasing drain on social welfare.” For what it is worth, Winston is affiliated with the Brookings Institution and Maheshri appears to be a grad student in economics at UC-Berkely, neither of which is known as being particularly conservative in their institutional outlooks.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More Georgia University Rankings

Following up on the post below concerning the world academic rankings of Georgia’s universities, here are a couple more tidbits for your consideration.

U.S. News & World Report assigns national academic rankings of 17th to Emory, 35th to Georgia Tech, and 59th to UGA in its “Top Schools” section, meaning that they fall into the “top 50 percent of schools.”

Clark Atlanta, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State all come in as Tier 4 schools, meaning that they fall into “the bottom 25 percent of schools.”

The web site of The Princeton Review has a section about its rankings, but does not give the rankings themselves - although it does have entries for each school. Apparently, the idea is to get you to buy its book for $21.95 in order to get the scoop on the rankings. I have my doubts about this one, as UGA’s enrollment is given as a mere 25,005.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Academic Rankings of Georgia’s Universities

I came across these academic rankings of the world’s top 500 universities as determined by the Institute of Higher Education at China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The universities ranked 1-99 were given in order; after that, the rankings were given in blocks.

Insofar as the Peach State is concerned, Emory, Georgia Tech, and UGA were in a dead heat, with all three placing in the 102-150 range worldwide, in the 59-76 range regionally, and in the 55-70 range nationally. The Medical College of Georgia ranked in the 402-508 range worldwide, in the 165-197 range regionally, and in the 141-166 range nationally.

For those interested, the site has information on methodology, statistics, comparisons, FAQs, etc.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

TOA Toots Its Own Horn

Governor Perdue has named yours truly to a two-year term as the 10th congressional district representative on the Georgia Children’s Trust Fund Commission. According to the Commission’s web site, “The primary purpose of the fund is to support the establishment of community-based educational and service programs designed to reduce the occurrence of child abuse and neglect in Georgia. Money to fund the Children's Trust Fund Commission is appropriated annually by the General Assembly and is maintained as a separate fund within the state treasury. To date over 700 grants have been made from the Trust Fund with awards totaling over $19,000,000.”

See the
press release from the Governor’s Office (about two-thirds of the way down the page) and the GCTFC's web site.

In terms of local appointments, I have served on the Development Authority of the Unified Government of Athens Clarke County since 2003 and am currently
assistant secretary/treasurer.

For those who may not know, I am also a member of the
State Committee of the Georgia Republican Party, serving as a representative from the former 12th congressional district in 2005 and from the current 10th congressional district since 2006.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Impertinent Observations

An oldie but goodie from our Schoolhouse Rock days:

I give the Clarke County School District a hard time about its high level of spending and poor academic performance (and will continue to do so as I think appropriate), but recognize that not all is doom and gloom.

Algebra I students in the District’s four middle schools did rather well on the state’s End-of-Course Test this past spring. Of the 870 participating “schools and programs,” Clarke Middle School’s average score placed it first in the state, Hillsman Middle School’s came in at number 28, Burney-Harris-Lyons Middle School’s at 138, and W.R. Coile Middle School’s at number 182 – not too shabby. Of course, the scores only represent those students taking algebra (i.e., the high achievers who will be taking those AP tests in a few years), not the respective student bodies as wholes, but are impressive nonetheless. Also, congratulations to those students who earned their diplomas by attending summer school.

Speaking of education, while reasonable people may disagree over what to do with the $142 million surplus currently resting in the state’s coffers, the idea of throwing more tax money into the public education bureaucracy is unsupportable in any rational sense (of course, the political aspects are another matter altogether). I personally favor the idea of putting the surplus into reserves - though the idea of a property tax refund has appeal, I do not think that it is really feasible or worthwhile.

I have studied school system millage rates, per pupil expenditures, test scores, graduation rates, and AYP measurements for a long time and can find no meaningful positive correlation between increased spending and increased academic success. None. So, this is a political ploy. Democrats are simply playing to their base on this one - pure and simple. There is no reason whatsoever to think that a one-time windfall of $142 million will improve the quality of public education in Georgia by one iota. But, anyone who opposes the idea will be pilloried.

Insofar as issues under consideration by the commission are concerned, I have the sneaking suspicion that we have not heard the last of either restrictions on public comment (tabled and referred to the Government Operations Committee; see item 21), or a much more restrictive alcohol ordinance.

Finally, though there is not much to be found there yet, Representative Paul Broun’s official web site is here. By the way, the good doctor's much-ballyhooed vote on the medical marijuana issue was entirely in keeping with his expressed political philosophy, so what was the big deal? I just hope that he keeps on voting that way.

And with that, The Other Athens and family are out of town for a few days of R&R before school starts up.

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