Politics & Government

Columbus has a wish list for this year’s state Legislature

Group wants to create momentum for Interstate 14 through Columbus and Macon

The Columbus-based Youth Infrastructure Coalition is working to create momentum and support for a proposed Interstate 14 that would flow through the Georgia cities of Columbus and Macon, terminating in Augusta.
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The Columbus-based Youth Infrastructure Coalition is working to create momentum and support for a proposed Interstate 14 that would flow through the Georgia cities of Columbus and Macon, terminating in Augusta.

The Muscogee-Columbus consolidated government wants a few things out of the state Legislature this year, from support for a freeway to lower hotel taxes.

Every year, local governments have a chance to give a wish list to their local lawmakers, and ask them to push for those changes under the Gold Dome in Atlanta. Some items have very little prospect of happening, but each one at least shows some of Columbus’ concerns. All the items passed the Columbus Council during meetings late last year.

Start with a big thing: Columbus’ government wants an interstate highway on the route where U.S. 80 is now, in the name of economic development. What’s called Interstate 14 starts in Texas and is a federal project. There’s little the state Legislature can do to make it happen, but the request is that state legislators support the idea where they can.

And on to what seems like a small thing until somebody abandons a car on your private property and blocks your dumpster. Right now, the local government can’t remove an abandoned car for ordinance violations from private property. Columbus wants a change that says it’s OK to tow off an ordinance-violating abandoned car from private property.

Columbus also wants communities to have a bigger say in what’s often a big fight: cell phone towers. Columbus thinks a new federal rule is a little unfair that gives telecoms companies a little more power to negotiate for small cell towers on cities’ land. Columbus wants the state Legislature to at least require neighborhood feedback first.

Under “health and safety,” file a request that insurance companies make more exceptions to rules on expensive drugs. Right now, some insurance plans require some patients try less expensive drugs before trying more expensive ones. These are so-called “step therapies,” and Columbus wants more exceptions to step therapy rules. The county also wants statewide rules that would require at least two trained managers to be on duty all night at places like personal care homes and child-care centers.

Things to put under “money” have a lot to do with showing hospitality by not taxing hotel guests so much: Columbus wants a repeal of a $5-per-night state hotel tax, on the grounds that Georgians who are in hotels are already being taxed in other ways. A more modest request is for a break from that tax for folks who are fleeing hurricanes or other natural disasters. Another would exempt hotel stays from a local tax.

Columbus wants lawmakers to see how a sales tax credit for traveling shows might be expanded to smaller-scale productions that do bring performances (and spending on things like hotels and catering) to places like the River Center, even if the performers don’t stay for months or spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars that’s now required for the tax break.

The county also wants the state to pay for transporting juveniles outside of the county for court proceedings. Local governments generally don’t want to spend police time and money moving folks outside the jurisdiction.

The county’s endorsing what would be a huge change in voting and how candidates get nominated. Right now, if you go vote in a primary, you can pick a Republican ballot with only GOP choices, a Democrat ballot with only Democrat choices or a nonpartisan ballot. The nonpartisan ballot will only have nonpartisan races, like those for judges. Columbus wants nonpartisan ballots to cover all races. So somebody who wants to vote for a Democrat in one primary race and a Republican in another, could.

Another regards “tax allocation districts:” zones where an increment of property taxes are used to subsidize developers, with an aim to jump-starting development in tired areas. Right now, local government employees and elected officials aren’t supposed have any interest in any redevelopment projects in those zones — it’s meant to prevent conflicts of interest. But Columbus argues the rule has the perverse effect of banning any city employees from something as simple as buying homes in such zones and of discouraging people from running for office. Columbus wants to loosen up the law, including cutting reference to city employees.

Legislative reporter Maggie Lee began covering the state Capitol in Atlanta for The Telegraph in 2011.