Charlie Harper: Holiday politics in Georgia

December 11, 2012 

There will be a few meetings this week for Georgia politics. After all, there's still that whole "fiscal cliff" that Washington has to decide how to deal with. Georgia's congressional delegation will spend most of this week, again, in anticipation of some movement from those who are negotiating the "grand bargain" that will allow tax rates to be set, and spending to flow.

Georgia has a few items on the agenda depending on how the matters are resolved in Washington. How the deal ultimately is constructed will have a large bearing on how the next two years play out for Senator Saxby Chambliss. He will, of course, be on the ballot again in 2014.

Inability to reach a compromise on the fiscal cliff issues may also translate into an inability to pass a full farm bill. The result would likely be a six month to one year extension of the current farm bill. While this doesn't sound like a major change, it should be noted that farmers and those who depend on agribusiness are on a relatively fixed planting cycle. A farm bill that starts in June doesn't exactly help the 2013 harvest. Thus, Washington's inability to do even its most basic work is now extending uncertainty into yet another facet of the American economy.

Closer to home, members of the Georgia General Assembly have gathered in Athens for their biennial meeting, held every two years before each the newly elected legislators are sworn in for the first time. As the sessions began Sunday, legislators already had one eye on Washington. A budget briefing given to detail challenges to expect in the upcoming session was described as "sobering."

Saxby Chambliss, in Athens Sunday before returning to budget talks in Washington, reminded legislators that every federal program will be impacted by sequestration. Many of these programs, of course, involve funding to the states. Thus, those looking at revenue numbers falling short of projections are now equally nervous that the federal government may be looking to states for help balancing the books.

Legislators will be feeling each other out in Athens over where the votes are for the hospital bed tax. Renewal of this tax - though some, as is custom, prefer to call it a fee - is crucial for Georgia not having an even bigger budget gap than is currently predicted. None want to give up the revenue, but no one want wants to be part of a "tax increase," either. Same song, different verse.

Of course, as old legislators gather with the new in Athens, there is also time for reminiscing. Like promises to enact tough ethics reform that were made in the wake of summer's primary ballot questions on the topic, coupled with the embarrassing T-SPLOST losses.

While many of the biennial activities will be of the informal and/or informational variety, there will be at least one act of significance. Senate Republicans are expected to approve new rules for the Chamber, restoring a more direct role for Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle as president of the Senate. While it is not expected that Cagle will re-assume the full committee appointment powers he once enjoyed, it is anticipated that he will have a direct seat at the table when those appointments are made.

Once approved, announcements of committee appointments and chairmen will likely follow, providing a bit more news as we move closer to the year's end. With the recent leadership changes, retirements, and the ongoing ethics issues of the Rules Chairman, expect Santa to be bringing quite a few changes before the Senate convenes in January.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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