Georgia House Passes Mid-Year Budget with Unanimous Support

On Friday morning, the Georgia House of Representatives approved an amended budget for Fiscal Year 2012 on a vote of 159-0. This year?s appropriations legislation passed through the House with minimal fanfare and no major objections from either side of the aisle. Reportedly the House?s first-ever on a mid-year budget, the unanimous vote stood in contrast to last year?s 122-44 vote, which faced Democratic opposition due to the inclusion of mandatory teacher and state employee furloughs.

Highlights from the appropriation package include:

?A one-time $300 million appropriation of past years? motor fuels tax revenue for the ?Northwest Corridor? project, a toll highway expansion on Interstates 75 and 575. The funds will replace private funding previously anticipated under a public-private partnership. Governor Deal has expressed reservations about ceding state authority over the roadway.

?Decommissioning the Georgia Aviation Authority. Widely viewed as a failed experiment wrought with inefficiencies, the agency, started under former Governor Sonny Perdue, has faced stiff opposition from lawmakers in recent years.

?$75,000 for the Department of Agriculture to hire employees to assist farmers with finding temporary labor through a federal guest worker program. This is an attempt to mitigate the negative effects of last year?s HB 87, a strict law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

?Customary adjustments to school funding to reflect enrollment growth at Georgia?s public schools.

?Increased funding for Mercer and Morehouse Schools of Medicine, accompanied by a decrease in Medicaid spending in reaction to an expected decrease in need for services.

The State Senate will take up the bill next week. With no significant changes expected, this mid-year budget could be the product of one of the quickest and smoothest appropriation processes in recent history.
Lemon Law Fee Increase Passes Senate, Faces Uncertain Fate in House

SB 305, a bill aimed at increasing the ?Lemon Law? fee on new car purchases from $3 to $5, passed the State Senate with bipartisan support last Thursday on a 30-19 vote.  The ?Lemon Law? allows new car buyers the opportunity to take automobile dealers into arbitration with the Governor?s Office of Consumer Protection if there are significant defects with the vehicle within two years of purchase. The fee provides funding for the state to enforce the law and administer these arbitration proceedings.

Critics, however, point out that not all revenue collected from the fee has been used for its intended purpose. Over 25% of the approximately $539,000 in fees collected last year was spent on areas other than enforcing the Lemon Law.

The bill will now go to the House where it faces an uncertain fate. Legislators in both chambers have expressed a frustration with the appropriation of state fees, and many at the Capitol have thrown their support behind efforts to limit the way such revenue is spent. Earlier today, a bill which would require revenues from state fees to be spent on areas related to that fee was voted out of a House subcommittee.  
Controversy over Contracts at Hartsfield-Jackson

The City of Atlanta is facing a new round of criticism over its handling of the procurement process at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Contracts for the new international terminal, slated to open this spring, are valued in excess of $3 billion over the next ten years. Lawsuits have already been filed in dispute of several of the awards, and officials estimate that the city will spend approximately $800,000 responding to public records requests regarding the airport.

Complaints have included clashes over the release of records pertaining to winning bids. Concerns have been raised that the city has not provided adequate time for losing bidders to receive and review documents prior to a protest deadline.

Also included in these complaints are allegations of abuse in the city?s ?Disadvantaged Business Enterprise? program, which sets aside a certain portion of each government contract for companies with the ?Disadvantaged? designation. The program is seen as a way to mitigate the barriers to entry in the procurement process. Complainants allege that companies which have been operating in the airport for years, or those with ties to special interests, receive the benefits of ?Disadvantaged Business Enterprise? status in spite of their political connections and long track record of success.

The city has also come under fire in the bidding of construction projects at the airport. Numerous open records act requests are currently pending on this matter, as concerned parties are investigating any improper influence in the awarding of these contracts.
State Leadership Looks at Government Regulation

In line with previous commitments made by Governor Nathan Deal, Speaker David Ralston and the Republican leadership, the General Assembly has begun work towards simplifying and eliminating burdensome and redundant government regulations.

The House Small Business and Job Development Committee, chaired by Representative David Knight (R-Griffin), is now underway with its ?Red Tape Watch? initiative, through which local businesses provide feedback about which regulations and policies are hindering the performance and growth of their companies. The Committee has introduced an online site where small businesses can submit their concerns.

Hearings will continue over the next several weeks, and now is the time for local businesses to make their voices heard.
Georgia DOE and Private Partners Work to Revitalize Workforce Education

The Georgia Department of Education has made significant progress with revitalizing the state?s approach to workforce preparedness in a global economy. State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. John Barge, recently discussed with the State Board of Education his Department?s efforts to link career and vocational education with outreach to international educational institutions and private sector partners. The German-American CEO Roundtable, a group of top executives from German companies operating in the Southeastern United States, has been credited for its pivotal role in developing these initiatives.

Many prominent businesses in the region acknowledge that they have numerous open positions with their companies; however, they are having a difficult time finding qualified workers to fill those jobs. As the economy becomes more globalized, the private sector recognizes the importance of helping employees develop technical skills and understand cross-cultural differences and how to turn those differences into strengths in the workplace and marketplace.

Pilot internship exchange programs will be underway as early as next summer, and corporations such as Porsche Cars North America and Siemens have expressed strong support and an understanding of the need for the private sector to take an active role in preparing Georgia?s students to become successful members of the workforce. Dr. Barge reiterated his position to supporters from the private and public sectors at a recent breakfast: ?a top priority of my administration has been and will continue to be laying the groundwork for our students to become productive citizens eager to contribute to a global economy.? Detlev von Platen, CEO of Porsche Cars North America, expressed his pleasure that Dr. John Barge and the Department of Education were undertaking such an important initiative.

Anyone with suggestions, or who would like to participate in these efforts, should contact Wayne Reece at wreece@reeceassociates.com.

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