Why isn’t anyone asking about value when it comes to transportation costs?

If you’re an avid reader of Peach Pundit, THE political blog in Georgia, you’re likely reading about the debate surrounding transportation funding in Georgia.  The site has published on the topic extensively, and you can navigate over there to PP to read the articles.  The latest noted a presentation by DOT Commissioner Keith Golden highlighting Georgia’s $74 billion – that’s with a b – shortfall in funding for necessary projects.  For priority projects, that’s a more manageable $15 billion.  Still a lot of money.

We can’t deny that finding funding is part of the solution.  We need to identify as a state where that money will come from — I’m personally in favor of a better tax rate for gasoline (after all it’s a Fair Tax as you determine how much you pay based on how much gasoline you use) and expanding toll roads (another user fee that ensures the people who use the roads pay for them).  However, it doesn’t start and stop there.  An unavoidable discussion must surround what value-added activities Georgia uses in building transportation infrastructure.  I question the figure of $74 billion.  I just don’t buy it.

A series of articles by the International Road Federation discusses some of the reasons why I don’t believe the figure is completely accurate.  The causes range from a lack of separating wants and needs to outright corruption, but the impact remains the same.  Taxpayers end up paying more and get less return for their invested tax dollars.  We just need to look to states like Illinois to see the impacts of corruption.  Regardless of the reason, the result is unacceptable.

The study committee would do well to take the time to study what our objectives are, how to show progress in meeting those objectives, and methods to properly oversee the value added by transportation projects.  I think if you ask most folks who propose such projects, they’ll tell you they are good ideas.  I know there’s someone out there who thinks the Atlanta Streetcar is a good thing…maybe?  However, that doesn’t mean that it is.  We need to stop making an ass out of u and me in selecting our projects.

This is no time to dither on this important role of the study committee.  Charlie Harper, editor of Peach Pundit and an advocate for improving our transportation systems intelligently, will tell you we spend about $.60 cents of what an average state of our size spends on transportation.  That should be a warning flag we pay attention to, and our attention should focus on ways to bring that average closer to what we spend as much as identifying ways of bringing Georgia closer to that average.  After all, if we’re ever going to tackle this problem and maintain our infrastructure in a fashion that actually puts the problem to rest, we need to do something different.


Are Conservatives Losing?

The AJC commissioned a poll that details some numbers before the beginning of the legislative session.  You can see the fancy little reporting tool here, but it’s telling some of the to responses to questions asked.  As a consultant regularly conducting polls for my clients, I take a great deal of interest in the numbers.  They tell a story, and while polls are by their very nature imprecise at some level, they do provide very valuable and valid insight that we can use to infer voters’ thoughts.  Conservatives should do a very deep dive into these and their own if they want to provide relevant voices in shaping policy decisions at the state level.

Republicans in the statehouse are not going to set a radical agenda for governing, and by radical, I mean anything outside of vanilla.  This session in particular will be quick and to the point — case in point, the budgeting hearings that normally take a week (without either chamber convening for session) will take one.  The new election calendar partially drives this, but this reticence to act is also driven in large part by the fact there is an election calendar.  It’s a management mentality.  Republicans know the iceberg is ahead, but maybe, just maybe, they’ll only graze it if they keep a steady hand on the wheel.  All fine and dandy, but Georgia can do more with a strong conservative base to draw activists from.  Those activists need to do more to influence the people influencing legislators – the voters – and less trying to put the legislators through the ringer before, during, and after every session.  Not to say there isn’t a place for that, but elected officials don’t have a reason to care about a vocal minority when they know the silent majority is far more “moderate” and less interested in ideological solutions.

Activists have to make a real priority out of sounding and thinking rationally.  Too often, the rhetoric is pure dogmatism.  While these are frequently the folks calling for the removal of “big government Republicans” or labelling politicians as “RINOs,” the fact remains that the majority of people outside of their little established circles don’t much care for that.  Seth Millican wrote a fantastic piece on just this subject:

[Republicans] have therefore been fairly clear, and quite emphatic, about what they believe the government should not be doing. But if it is true, as they have argued, that the Democrats’ vision is a travesty of American government, then what is the proper and appropriate extent and purpose of that government?

Conservatives in recent years have not done enough to answer this question, and as a result have offered voters an oppositional view of government that, while perhaps stoking worry and resentment, is insufficient to build public trust in the prospect of a conservative government. And such a negative approach to the question of the role of government is not only electorally insufficient — it is unbecoming of conservatism and of the deep commitment that conservatives claim to the nation’s founding ideals.

He makes a very solid point.  Conservatives are failing in telling a story that they can use to persuade voters to ideologically align with them in greater numbers than is currently the case.  

Education reform remains a priority.  54% of respondents want more money to go to schools.  That falls to just under a majority of men at 49% but increases nearly ten points to 58% of women.  Reforms are desperately needed, and regardless of where you fall on the side of Common Core, a discussion has to be had about how more money reaches the classroom with the various forms of public education.  Real solutions with real positive consequences must be driven home.  More importantly, those efforts need to branch out beyond the usual suspects.  Otherwise, radical leftists, or worse center-left politicians, will figure out a way to tap into that sentiment about education.  Republicans (and by extension conservatives) will be frozen out.

Healthcare must also be dealt with.  53% of Georgians want either all (40%) or part (13%) of Obamacare repealed, but 57% want Medicaid expansion for poor Georgians despite the State’s insistence that the cost will be a burden.  That split also grows among women with only 45% calling for Obamacare repeal (33% full; 12% partial) but 61% desiring Medicaid expansion.  Those ratios are also consistent with Independents polled that matter in general elections.  Efforts by legislators to nullify Obamacare is a positive first step locally.  Karen Handel is also giving due attention to Tom Price’s solutions in the U.S. House, as well.  Both are good steps, and our state legislators can make that have an even bigger impact here at home.

Conservatives cry for loosening gun control laws (with which I agree), but posting a picture of a semiautomatic rifle and saying “the Founding Fathers wanted me to shoot this!” is a really, really poor way to convince voters of your ideology.  Only 20% of those polled support campus carry.  This is slightly higher for younger Georgians (25%) but markedly lower for women (8%).  82% support training requirements for open carry, which also received high support among the age (90%) and gender (85%) demographics.  Conservatives need to tell a better story first and the policy changes will follow.  Right now, though, they are losing the debate.

Now, let me make this perfectly clear – I don’t trust elected Republicans to set the agenda that an ideological base wants – an ideological base that, by and large, I find myself in.  However, there’s reason for that.  Republicans are going to read these results and understand the message – govern from the center.  If conservatives want legislators to govern from the right, then bringing people to the right is what’s necessary.  Conservatives need to influence these poll results and the ideology of the people answering them.  These folks don’t attend rallies when they can cheer on their kids’ soccer teams, and they certainly won’t spend a Thursday evening talking about the Constitution when their children are acting out a school play about the founding fathers.  Those on the right ideologically need to understand this or forever be a marginalized minority in the Republican Party.

Best names for the new Braves stadium.

BravesLeadWhile everyone is arguing about who is going to pay for the new stadium, I’m worried about details that matter like what the new stadium will be called.  My good friend Charlie Harper talks about some of the monetary considerations involved in naming rights, but I wanna go a little deeper.  What’s really in a name.  It’s personality, it’s history, it’s a reflection of the spirit of where you come from…like Philips Arena…and the new stadium should reflect just that.  With the personality, history, and spirit of Cobb County in mind, here are my best suggestions for a name.

Rebel Coliseum

Georgia is the South.  Anyone here will tell you that, and has certainly told me that since you’re a “Yankee” if you’re not from here.  Regardless if transplants come from Wyoming where cities weren’t really settled until after the Civil…excuse me, War of Northern Agression…and the State didn’t even exist as a State until 1890.  Nonetheless, I’m here now where people still believe in state’s “rights” and the Stars and Bars are looked at with nostalgia.  Of course, there’s no better way to demonstrate that commitment to the past than ensuring certain folks can’t even come to the stadium.  Great idea!

The other factor I’m not mentioning here, of course, is how awesome would it be for a Braves-Yankees World Series to take place in Yankee Stadium and Rebel Coliseum.  Of course, the Braves can’t seem to beat the Yankees, though, so maybe that’s not such a good idea after all.  Might conjure up some bad memories…

Chamber Citizens Field

Am I the only one that thinks the Georgia Chamber might really be the impetus behind this madness?  Hear me out.  Chamber spends upwards of $8 million to get shelacked in the Atlanta region by 26 points for the TSPLOST.  They know that the conservative bastion of Cobb County hates taxes more than anything else…but wait, do they hate taxes more than they love the Braves?  Ahhhh ha!  Well, considering the fear that the 75/285 interchange is already a sticky subject for evening commuters trying to get home, this seems a perfect way to say “…hey, I know you guys don’t like this, but….well, maybe you wanna talk about it now?”

What way to better honor the potential partnership between the Chamber and the Citizens of Cobb County than to name a baseball stadium after their wonderful relationship.  Kinda like Brangelina…except uglier…

Outside the Perimeter Park

Already referenced are the comments by Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy that were widely publicized today, but let’s see how they can actually reflect the passion that people OTP have about being OTP:

 It is absolutely necessary the solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta.

The OTP v. ITP debate is never ending.  With ITP you get the hip, swank, metro environments of Midtown and Buckhead.  With OTP you get suburbia in all its grandeur.  It’s why MARTA doesn’t even come close to where people live in Cobb County and why North Fulton folks said “that’s far enough” to the line when it gets to Sandy Springs.  OTPers may be a bunch of squares, but it’s a lot cheaper to live and you don’t have to deal with those pesky taxes or Atlanta School Board folks.  Since the stadium will be built just outside the perimeter, clearly that’s a demonstration the Braves hated being ITP and made the move out with everyone else.  Creative Loafing doesn’t like SUVs?  Well, we hope you don’t like Braves baseball, either, cause you ain’t gettin’ there no other way…

…then again, it’s Creative Loafing.  The Braves are racist, and sports comes as far up the list of priorities as buying Sarah Palin’s new book.  Buy a car, hippies!

Lee Memorial Stadium

Tim Lee won re-election on the back of an ill conceived idea about incorporating East Cobb.  Nonetheless, the Republican base – ya know, the ones that send out press releases letting everyone know who they are – still don’t like him a whole lot which makes the stadium deal a risky bet.  If taxes end up being hiked to finance bonds, it’s inevitably going to end up on his head.

So, I’ll fully admit this name is as likely to be selected as not, but don’t bet against it yet.  Other public financing deals have resulted in the death (and resurrection of once dead) political careers.  Should this be an abysmal failure, we may be seeing a memorial procession in the Spring of 2016.

Now, inevitably I don’t think these names will be chosen, but only because I don’t have the money to splash for naming rights.  I’m going to start a change.org petition, though, to make sure the Braves are heard…cause that’s worked before in Cobb County.

Jason Carter is in so let’s take the chance to jump right in with him.

By now, the worst kept secret in Georgia is out.  Jason Carter, the grandson of former President and current peace-lover Jimmy Carter, is running for Governor against (presumably) Nathan Deal.  Last night, I had the chance to shine for a total of about 8 seconds on 11 Alive talking about Senator Carter and Georgia politics in general.  I shined so much I cannot find the video to embed, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  I was magical..

…nevertheless, I tried to stress the point that Jason Carter represents the archetype of what we should expect from major Democratic candidates going forward in Georgia.  Young, vibrant, dynamic, Atlanta-based (at least for the time being), and able to carry themselves with some prestige in a difficult environment.  The reason we should expect this on the right is simple – Georgia is growing into fertile ground for Democrats.  With some good cultivation (organization) and a little of fertilizer (money) Georgia could prove a purple state in the mold of Virginia.  This election presents a perfect opportunity to build that foundation for winning, especially for candidates like Nunn and Carter the Youngers who are probably a bit more liberal and left-leaning than their preceding family members.

You don’t get to beat the best without running against the best.

I also had the chance to listen in on another conversation take place that talked about the Republican primary and some folks’ desire to see Pennington and Barge out of the race.  I disagree, but not because I think either candidate presents a great alternative to a very good governor.  Pennington’s appeal lies with the fringe of the party, and needed broad-based coalitions won’t line up behind him.  Barge is a burned candidate; campaigning against the GOP’s major school choice reform (after saying you supported the same concept if not exact policy) was not a good move to base a run for “govner” on.  Plus, I’m just a firm believer that Deal governs well.  Georgia has a healthy economic environment, companies are leaving their home states to open some new Georgia digs (e.g., Caterpillar), and generally speaking he isn’t an embarrassment to the party.  Deal wins the primary and governorship no matter what, but taking advantage of a good reason to use resources effectively and build those networks of volunteers, voter IDs, and coalitions can never be understated in importance.

Younger conservatives won’t have the same easy fights in coming election cycles as they do in this one.  It’s time we start to consider this one difficult, too.  Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn are well-moneyed, but they also are able to communicate a message.  If you’ve seen Carter on the Senate floor, you know he’s able to aggressively, but respectfully, present his liberal leanings in a chamber where his voice is drowned out as part of a super-minority.  Michelle Nunn’s campaign rollout was flawless in my opinion, utilizing the new digital media platforms to announce her candidacy.  The future is here.  It’s a good idea to make sure the younger generation of Georgia conservatives are part of that future.

Younger conservatives have a fantastic opportunity to prove that in this election cycle.  Without a viable opponent, the respective chairman and leaders of the Georgia Young Republicans and Georgia Association of College Republicans (both of whom I’m proud to call good friends, by the way) have done tremendous work in building for the future.  Now, we have the chance to build and test and a series of candidates which can help expose our flaws and entrench our strengths.

It’s exciting times.  Let’s take advantage of that.

Might We Teach Some Common Sense, Please?

Yesterday, the Marietta Daily Journal reported that an upstanding young man was arrested and given a felony weapons possession charge.  Normally, we’d probably shrug our shoulders and say, “Good!  Another violent thug busted!”  Except, the case is not so cut and dry.  Furthermore, it raises serious questions about how and why we treat students in such a fashion.  We have become so prepared to other trying to hurt us that we have become hyper-sensitive to any “potential” threat and therefore cannot distinguish real risks from faux.  It’s a problem that our communities need addressed.

According to the MDJ, this all started with an anonymous tip that homeboy was smokin’ the refer and “smoke” was rising from his car and from there the knife was eventually found.  You can read the account of the entire incident here.

Here are some of the telling points that stuck out to me in the story:

  • Under closer examination, it was clear that the contraband in question wasn’t an ordinary pocket knife but an EMT rescue knife. Williams had placed it in his car with the knowledge of his parents for a very specific reason.”
  • Andrew was in a terrible car accident in February where he had to bust the window out and start dragging his friends out because he thought the car was going to blow up, and literally two weeks after that he went out and bought an EMT rescue knife.”
  • If found guilty, the weapons charge carries a fine of up to $10,000 and two to 10 years in prison.”

Here’s the problem I have with this whole incident.  Administrators and public safety are failing to distinguish between real potential threats and those that are not a consideration at all.  As a result, young men like Andrew Williams are not given the credit deserved for being responsible young people, and those that are risks don’t get the due attention they need in order to prevent something tragic from occurring.

Our laws compel education for young people, and that means for the vast majority of students it’s attending the public schoolhouses.  At the schoolhouse – which the students are legally required to attend – they have minimally protected constitutional rights that are far, far less protective than regular society.  More than that, our administrators begin to assume the worst about all of them – they’re all criminals, they’re all violent, they’re all dangerous.  At the very least, the assumption is that in instances such as these.  This is not the first time that an overreaction has led to criminal charges for a student that did nothing wrong.

We’ve become this society that tries to protect ourselves against every conceivable threat instead of really targeting the big risks and work our way down.  It’s understandable we fear the Newton tragedies, but for some reason we don’t ask lawmakers to institute policies which allow resources to flow to at-risk youth.  Instead, we target young men like Andrew and make sure that people see we have a “zero tolerance” policy and continue to be tough.  It may make soccer moms feel good, but I don’t believe we need to sacrifice a few lambs to make the herd feel secure.

What we need to focus on is ensuring that administrators and public safety at our school houses have the necessary training and flexibility to use discretion effectively in instance such as this.  After all, while the adminstrator search Andrew’s car, undoubtedly a student with real problems (emotions, family, learning difficulties) was not getting the administrative attention he needed.  Therefore, that real problem is still festering and could possibly explode into something far, far worse than finding an EMT knife in a vehicle’s console.