Sentiment Shifting on Immigration Reform among Some Policy Makers

Several months have passed since Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enhancement Act of 2011, and new views about the impact of the policy are beginning to become apparent.

The business community is expressing increased opposition to many of the provisions of the Act, noting that it is placing undue burdens on their companies and workers. Now, after the bill?s passage, signing, and a court challenge that struck down two key provisions of the law, many state legislators feel even more strongly that immigration is a federal issue and are expressing their frustration with the U.S. Congress? seeming inability to tackle the problem of illegal immigration.

Privately some legislators are also acknowledging that it is unreasonable to send millions of people home and that such an action would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. Over the coming months, expect to see more Georgia legislators engaged with Members of Congress to effect meaningful change.

The level of engagement, and the results it produces, will largely be dependent upon how willing leaders in the business community are to talk to their state and federal legislators about the negative impact the current immigration policies are having on their businesses and communities, along with the economy at large.
Redistricting Likely to Result in More Republican Office Holders

Yesterday, shortly before the adjournment of the 2011 Special Session, the Georgia Legislature passed its decennial redistricting plan largely along party lines. Georgia adds a Congressional district in accordance with a population increase reflected in the 2010 Census, giving the state 14 U.S. House Members. The newest district, slated to become Georgia?s Ninth Congressional District, will be located in the Northeast corner of the state, anchored by Gainesville and Hall County.  Currently, the state?s Congressional delegation splits 8-5 in favor of the Republicans; however, the new map will likely result in a 10-4 division after the 2012 elections. The most significant change is modification to Democratic U.S. Representative John Barrow?s district. The new plan moves his home in Chatham County, near Savannah, out of the district and adds parts of Republican-leaning Augusta, leaving the district much more conservative and Barrow?s prospects for reelection dramatically reduced. Also under the new map, the City of Atlanta will be split into two districts, with U.S. Representative John Lewis (D) ceding much of the Buckhead area to Republican U.S. Representative Phil Gingrey.
Recently approved maps for new Georgia General Assembly district reflect similar trends. Votes in both chambers split largely on party lines and the new maps are expected to produce increased majorities for Republicans in both the State House and Senate. Under the new plan, incumbents are paired against each other in ten State House and one State Senate districts ? with a majority of these contests pitting Democrats against one another, it will create a contentious primary season for the Democratic Party. Some Democrats put forth accusations that the new districts dilute the influence of minority voters, and the Republican response has largely been focused on the fairness and legality of the process.

Leaders of the state?s Democratic Party have spoken out against the new maps, with House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams charging that the plan forces ?minority voters into enclaves? and accused Republicans of ?purging the state of Georgia of white Democrats.? Republicans countered that the results could have been much worse for Democrats, and added that their plans were not conceived maliciously.  According to those responsible for drawing the maps, the process followed the restrictions set forth in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The Republican leadership actually did not target as many incumbents from the other side of the aisle as the Democrats did when they controlled the chamber in 2001. The maps will now go to the United States Department of Justice for approval. Even if Justice Department approves the new districts, a legal challenge is all but inevitable. Still, the Republicans have taken a significant step towards securing a set of districts that will likely be favorable to their reelection prospects for the foreseeable future. If you would like to view the new Georgia General Assembly or Congressional maps, please send an e-mail to wreece@reeceassociates.com and we will forward them to you.
Transportation Referendum Prospects in Doubt

It is increasingly likely that a once popular referendum to enact a one percent local sales tax to fund regional transportation projects in Georgia will fail. Originally scheduled for the June 2012 primary ballot, the referendum has many supporters who believe that moving the date of consideration to the November general election ballot would mean a higher likelihood of passage due to increased voter turnout and the more moderate composition of the general electorate. Governor Deal placed consideration of a proposed date change on the calendar for the Special Session, making the issue a top priority for lawmakers.

Even with initial backing from the Governor and House leadership, proponents of changing the date of the referendum could not find the support necessary to move it to a vote. Eventually, the Governor concluded that the proposal was no longer viable, further signaling the referendum?s gloomy prospects in June. Privately legislators are voicing concerns that the business community has not yet fully stepped up to push for the referendum, which would bring billions of tax dollars in transportation projects to the state. Chambers of commerce pushed for the proposal to be voted on via referendum rather than passing the sales tax increases through the state legislature. The line of thinking was that legislators would not have to vote for a tax hike and the community would have more time to wage a campaign in support of the measure.

If somehow passed, the tax will fund transportation projects in 12 regions of the state, including up to $6 billion in proposed projects for the metro Atlanta region. Proposals for the Atlanta region include a $53 million makeover of the ?Spaghetti Junction? area, a beltline transit line in Atlanta at a cost of roughly $600 million, and $856 million for a transit line to connect midtown Atlanta and the Cumberland/Vinings area of Cobb County, among many other projects.        

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