Monday, March 31, 2008

What Price Fungibility?

I will be the first to acknowledge that the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, along with its constituent members, has just as much right to try to influence government policy as do the rest of us. Even so, the condescension, hyperbole, and disdain exhibited by some ACHF members - admittedly not all – concerning the Kappa Alpha fraternity and its recent demolition of a couple of old houses on Reese Street, an action entirely in accord with existing zoning ordinances by the way, prompts a pointed observation on my part. (See here, here, here, here, here, and here; taking particular note of the rhetoric employed).

ACHF routinely advocates more restrictive historic preservation ordinances, supports hastily-adopted development moratoria, suggests that property owners take less for their holdings, and decries those property owners who do not submit meekly to the organization’s narrow vision. Predictably, these actions have the consequence of increasing the costs and bureaucratic hassles of developing or redeveloping private property. In other words, ACHF is perfectly content to spend other people’s money rather freely. The next time someone from ACHF puts forth such arguments, though, just remember that he or she does so as the direct beneficiary of the taxpayers’ largess.

That is because the ACHF office, located at 489 Prince Avenue, is the property of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County, and by that I mean the taxpayers, which leases it to ACHF for the staggering sum of $1 per year – a rate I verified through an inquiry made to Athens-Clarke County’s Central Services Department.*

The current value placed on the property by the Clarke County Board of Tax Assessors is $256,400: $40,000 for the 0.04 acres of land occupied by the building (for the non-mathematically inclined, that works out to a staggering $1 million per acre) and $216,200 for the structure itself (at 1512 square feet, that works out to a pricey $143 per square foot) - rented for the princely sum of one solitary greenback a year. Any guesses as to what the true market rent for a similarly-sized building located on a main thoroughfare into the downtown area is? I don’t know, but I’ll wager that it is significantly more than 8¢ a month.

The point is that whatever money ACHF is not spending on renting its publicly-owned headquarters frees up those funds to lobby the Unified Government to grant its wishes, through either direct expenditures, enacting policies, or otherwise pursuing the organization’s legislative goals. Political science and economics types will immediately recognize this concept as “fungibility.”

It is true that ACHF acts as a “secondary” organization that ostensibly works toward the public good in exchange for its essentially free rent, by performing such services as operating the Athens Welcome Center. It is also true that several other organizations have similar arrangements with the Unified Government, including the Junior League of Athens (Taylor-Grady House), Morton Theatre Corporation (Morton Theatre), and Town & Gown Players (Athens Community Theatre). The conspicuous difference is that these other “secondaries” do not lobby the Commission to curtail the property rights of, and inflate the costs incurred by, their fellow citizens in their attempts to use their own property. More importantly, neither do their members routinely lambaste those with differing opinions or political priorities with gratuitous, ad hominem attacks.

So, how about this as a solution: the Unified Government could either cancel ACHF’s sweetheart lease and charge the group a market-based rent or, better yet, declare the property surplus and put it up for sell, thereby returning it to the property tax digest. To my mind, this proposed solution would constitute a win-win-win situation; the Unified Government cold use the money thus raised to replace whatever services ACHF might no longer provide at the Athens Welcome Center, the ACHF's more radical folks could continue to hector the rest of us to their hearts’ content, and my tax dollars would no longer be subsidizing their tantrum-laden activism.

Any takers?

*Those interested can see the information on the Prince Avenue property from the CVIOG and the Board of Tax Assessors for themselves (the parcel number is 17-1-A1-G-001).

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

GACR Convention - 2008

The theme of this year’s convention is “The Future Is Yours.” Scheduled speakers include Georgia Republican Party Chairman Sue Everhart, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, various Senators and Representatives, some special guests, and candidates for public office (after all, it is an election year).

The convention takes place on Friday and Saturday, 28-29 March, at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center in Atlanta. The conference runs from 6:00 p.m. on Friday until 3:00 p.m. on Saturday

Registration, which is free, includes the Chairman’s Awards Banquet on Friday evening and a buffet lunch on Saturday. If you need a hotel room for Friday night, the cost is $29.

Register for the convention and check out the GACR blog.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Georgia Among Best Managed States

The purpose of this post is mainly to annoy the progressive types here in Athens. That is because whatever problems are identified in local government, consisting of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County and the Clarke County School District (and they are legion), the locals will inevitably trace them back to a paucity of funds from, or attacks on local control by, the evil Republicans who control state government - as opposed to the wanton spending and conspicuous over-regulation that occurs at the local level. From the 10 March edition of the Office of the Governor’s Week in Review:

Georgia Receives Highest Grade in the Southeast; Grade Rises to B+

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Pew Center on the States and Governing Magazine Monday ranked Georgia among the best managed states in the nation in the Grading the States 2008 report. Georgia’s overall grade of B+ is the highest awarded to any state in the Southeast. Governor Sonny Perdue traveled to Washington D.C. today to speak at the luncheon where the results were announced and to share some insights into how he has transformed Georgia’s state government.
“We have made sensible, strategic reforms in Georgia to make government more efficient and more responsive to the needs of our citizens,” said Governor Sonny Perdue. “As a result, Georgians are getting better value for their tax dollars and better service from their government, and we will continue to work to surpass every other state and become the best managed state in the nation.”
Only three states received a higher grade than Georgia's B+, and four other states received the same grade as Georgia. The national average among the 50 states was an overall grade of B-. Thirteen states earned grades above the national average and 19 states were below the national average.
Georgia’s overall grade was determined by averaging the state’s score in each of four categories: “Money” B+, “People” A-, “Infrastructure” B, and “Information” B+. Georgia’s previous overall grade was a B in 2005, the most recent year the study was conducted. This year’s study is the fourth in the series.
The 2008 report emphasized the value and impact of improvements made by the Governor’s Commission for a New Georgia, an initiative Governor Perdue launched shortly after being sworn-in as Governor in 2003. The commission is made up of private sector business and community leaders who offer a fresh perspective on how to make government more efficient and effective.

See the Pew Center on the States, Governing, and the Commission for a New Georgia.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen*

Mike Huckabee pledged his supporters that he would stay in the GOP presidential contest until such time as a candidate secured the number of delegates required to clinch the nomination.

True to his word, the Governor bowed out gracefully last night when rival John McCain reached the requisite 1191 delegates.
Even so, considering the comparative paucity of staff and funds with which Huckabee waged his campaign, he achieved stunning results. In conceding, Huckabee proved himself a team player, vowing to support McCain, the Republican Party, and GOP candidates for the US House of Representatives and Senate.

I think that too many wannabe pundits wrote Huckabee off as simply the “evangelical” candidate, ignoring his positions on a wide range of issues. As the editors of the Dallas Morning News noted in their recent endorsement:

. . . Mr. Huckabee, 52, should be a top leader in tomorrow's Republican Party. His good-natured approach to politics – "I'm a conservative; I'm just not mad about it," as he likes to say – is quite appealing after years of scorched-earth tactics from both parties. He's a pragmatist more concerned with effective government than with bowing to ideological litmus tests. For example, he has proven himself willing to violate anti-tax dogma to undertake investment in infrastructure for the sake of long-term prosperity.

Mr. Huckabee also is good on the environment, contending that the future of the conservative movement depends on embracing conservation and stewardship of the natural world. And he's a compassionate conservative especially in tune with middle-class anxieties in a globalizing economy.

Though I may differ with McCain on a number of high-profile issues, I think that he is a far better choice than either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton (hardy a surprise, I know).
And with that, I will set presidential politics aside for a while. More about that and the veep sweepstakes later.

*Apologies to the 4077th.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Upcoming UGACR Speakers

The UGA College Republicans have an impressive slate of speakers scheduled for the remainder of the semester. They include:

Secretary of State Karen Handel discussing Georgia’s voter identification requirements on 05 March

Congressman John Linder talking about FairTax: The Truth on 19 March (though it has nothing to do with the UGACRs per sé, in a related event Neal Boortz will be hosting a free FairTax webinar on 06 March).

Tenth district incumbent congressman Paul Broun and challenger Barry Fleming will debate on 03 May.

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