Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

Nathan Deal on transportation funding: 'We all agree we need ... additional revenue'

We have our firmest comments yet from Gov. Nathan Deal on his support for raising new revenue for transportation. What we don't have yet is a consensus on how to do it. Said Deal:

"We all, of course, agree that we need to have additional revenue for our transportation in this state. Some will have a preference for more transit than others will have, but that's just the nature of where people come from and who they are in terms of their constituency. But I think that those are the kinds of things, that at the end of the session, we'll resolve them. And they won't be marked by partisan bickering."

"I want to make it clear here this morning that I support increasing funding for strategic transportation investments."

At the same event, House Speaker David Ralston was equally blunt about the need for some sort of transportation tax. He said lawmakers need to view the debate through a “long-term lens.”

“A fixation on the rhetoric of no won’t get us to the next level of greatness in Georgia,” said Ralston. “Now is not the time for naysaying. Now is the time to come to the table and offer solutions.”

He added:

"I'm not sure what the final package will look like … But let me be clear on one point: Doing nothing is not an option. We cannot allow this state to lose its job-creating momentum and fall behind other states, and we cannot allow the safety of our citizens to be put at risk due to inaction."

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle made it three for three when he said "doing nothing is simply not an option."

“It's about the people sitting in traffic in time for their kids little league games," said Cagle. "It's about communities that will prosper because of economic development. It's about economic needs. Those people are why we can't afford to put the issue on the backburner.”

Much of the talk has surrounded a hike in the state sales tax or gas tax. But our AJC colleagues Aaron Gould Sheinin and Kristina Torres spotlighted a new plan making the rounds that would involve an increase in the cigarette tax. Here's how it could work:

Meanwhile, talk Monday of a potential increase in the state cigarette tax had lawmakers and lobbyists scrambling for information. While few details are known, it does not appear that the idea is being proposed by either the Georgia Hospital Association or Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, two of the major players in state health care at the Capitol.

But, according to those who have heard the plan, raising the cigarette tax would generate new revenue to help pay for Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled. That, in turn, would free up other state dollars to help pay for transportation projects.

Georgia last increased its cigarette tax in 2003, when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue used the windfall in his first year in office to fill a hole in the state budget.

We talked to several metro Atlanta lawmakers who are seeking alternatives that wouldn't raise the sales tax, primarily because residents in metro counties already pay higher sales tax rates than many other places to fund MARTA and other county priorities.

And we know of one conservative Republican who intends to drop a proposal this week that would ramp up transportation spending more slowly, using projected economic growth to get us there.



We’re told state School Superintendent Richard Woods will hire Jeremy Spencer as the associate superintendent of the Georgia Virtual School, which offers courses at the middle school and high school levels across the state. Jeremy Spencer is the brother of state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine.


A bill to require insurance companies to provide limited coverage for young children struggling with autism is to be dropped in the state Senate today. State Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, will do the toting, but the bill is also strongly backed by Renee Unterman, R-Buford, and Tommie Williams, R-Lyons.

Last year, the bill was tied to the medical marijuana effort. Both initiatives died. The autism bill is expected to pass the House easily this year – it’s been the House that is hostile to any further insurance mandates.

On Monday, Unterman told our AJC colleague Kristina Torres this:

“I’ve been working on that all summer and fall. The issue I’m most proud of and the issue we worked the hardest on was getting the state health benefit plan to accept a mandate on insurance. When that was resolved, that was a huge step. I’m continuing to work on autism. I’m continuing to work with the governor’s office. And I’m committed. I think the issue can be resolved.”


Two major changes in how business is done in the Capitol surfaced on Monday.

In the Senate, rules changes now require a two-hour wait for a conference committee report to lay on the table before a vote – instead of the traditional hour, which could make for a more complicated sine die.

The decision follows years of complaints not only from minority Democrats but some GOP lawmakers, including state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. Those complaints have centered on a lack of public transparency with the reports, which in the waning hours of session can be lengthy reads and are often used as Trojan horses to sneak unrelated legislation through to passage.

On the House side, lawmakers revealed an ever-shrinking budget hearing. Click here for the entire schedule. A $20 billion state budget will be discussed in a single day, Tuesday, Jan. 20, beginning at 10 a.m. and adjourning by 4:30 p.m. Gov. Nathan Deal will outline his budget proposal on Thursday, Jan. 22. But he’ll get an entire half-hour.


The Marietta Daily Journal is taking another swing at Kennesaw State University radicalism:

The featured speaker at Sunday’s KSU MLK Jr. Day observance sponsored by the African American Student Alliance will be retired college professor and former Black Panther Party associate Angela Davis, who in the late 1960s and early ’70s was idolized by the hard left as a violent revolutionary and boasted a reputation — or notoriety — rivaling those of Che Guevara and Weather Underground figures William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

The AASA is not required to get its speakers approved beforehand by the school administration.

Davis will pocket $20,000 for her talk, according to University Relations spokeswoman Tammy DeMel.


Former President Jimmy Carter was on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” last night, showing host Jon Stewart how to suck water from a scum-surfaced pond.

Carter also addressed the White House failure to send a ranking official to that Paris protest of the terrorist attack on a satirical newspaper. Thirty-six hours notice wasn't nearly enough time to prepare for a presidential appearance on open French streets, Carter said.

“I can understand how it would be very difficult for President Obama to go at the last minute. I don’t blame him at all for not going,” he said. Secretary of State John Kerry would have been the logical choice, Carter said, given his fluency in French. Watch here:

The Daily Show
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In Washington, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson is set to re-introduce his biennial budgeting bill today, which would have Congress pass two-year budgets in odd years, while spending even -- read: election -- years conducting oversight.

Isakson, a Georgia Republican, has joined with New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen on the bill as they have steadily built support. In 2013 the Senate voted, 68-31, to tack its language onto the budget -- though it was ceremonial, since the budget is a nonbinding blueprint. The senators hope to pass a standalone measure into law in this Congress.

Here's Isakson, from a forthcoming press release:

“I’m proud to join Sen. Shaheen in reintroducing this bipartisan, commonsense legislation that would change the paradigm of Washington’s broken budget system. With our national debt surpassing $18 trillion and growing, it is imperative that we rethink the way that we do things in Congress. I have pushed biennial budgeting every year I’ve been in the Senate since 2005 because this new system would increase oversight and reduce spending, making our federal government more efficient and more accountable to taxpayers.”


U.S. Sen. David Perdue announced 29 staff members Monday, as he has filled out his core team with a mix of his campaign team and Capitol Hill hands.

We had told you in December about chief of staff Derrick Dickey and communications director Megan Whittemore. A couple more key names:

- Martha Zoller (state policy director): The former conservative talk radio host, political news website founder and congressional candidate joined the Perdue campaign for the general election.

- P.J. Waldrop (legislative director): Held the same title under former U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, giving some high-level continuity from the previous regime.

Here's the full list:

Washington Staff:

Derrick Dickey, Chief of Staff

PJ Waldrop, Legislative Director

Megan Whittemore, Communications Director

Mark Bednar, Press Secretary

Gabriele Forsyth, Scheduler

Katherine Short, Deputy Scheduler

Caleb Moore, Director of Operations

John Eunice, General Counsel

Rachel Santos, Legislative Assistant

Gerald Huang, Legislative Assistant

Lindsey Maxwell, Correspondence Director

Lauren Hancock, Legislative Correspondent

Drew Robinson, Legislative Correspondent

Steve Rice, Legislative Correspondent

Evan Karanovich, Special Assistant

Sarah Schatz, Staff Assistant

Nell Henson, Staff Assistant

Katie McCabe, Staff Assistant

Georgia Staff:

Joyce White, State Director

Sarah Baska, Assistant to the State Director

Martha Zoller, State Policy Director

Elizabeth Dale, Outreach Coordinator

Stami Williams, Field Representative 

Ben Ayres, Field Representative 

Mark Smith, Field Representative

Jennifer Hayes, Constituent Services Director

Annette Stokes, Constituent Services Representative

Katherine Booth, Constituent Services Representative

Terri Dann, Constituent Services Representative


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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.