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Georgia editorial roundup

March 6, 2019

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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March 5

The Gainesville Times on legislation dealing with building regulations:

A particular piece of legislation being considered in this year’s relatively tame session of the state’s General Assembly has certainly captured the attention of governing bodies across the state, and not in a good way.

House Bill 302, which has won initial committee approval but has yet to be considered by the full House, would restrict local governments in their ability to mandate certain “building design elements” for one or two-family residential dwellings.

If the bill is passed — and considering the considerable political clout of the governing agencies that oppose it there is no certainty that it will be — cities and counties would no longer be able to dictate that new homes have a certain size, or be made of a certain material, or fit a certain architectural design.

The bill brings to the forefront a couple of different serious philosophical questions about the role of government: How involved should any governing body be in dictating to the public what they can and can’t build; and, should local communities have the right to set their own standards above and beyond minimum building codes set by the state?

As for the first philosophical question, we would suggest that governments, by their very nature, tend to overreach, and as such some have gone too far in mandating that houses be of a certain size, contain a certain number of rooms, have a certain color scheme or be made with a certain building material. It is one thing to set basic standards that establish a baseline for what is safe and practical, and something else to demand that every neighborhood look like something out of Architectural Digest.

We hear a lot, especially in our community, about the need for affordable housing. Yet when governments impose the sort of building standards meant to show that everyone is “keeping up with the Joneses,” the result can be inflated pricing that prevents anyone not solidly ensconced in the middle class from moving into a community.

Local building mandates can add tens of thousands of dollars to the price of a new home, often for no real purpose other than improving curb appeal.

If your city or county is one of those that thinks houses have to be built with bricks, have at least 2,400 square feet or sit on a half-acre lot, then don’t be surprised when there are no starter homes for your kids to live in when they graduate from college and take that first job, or houses for older residents looking to downsize and save money.

HB 302 would prohibit governments from enacting those sorts of mandates. While the goal for doing so is understandable, the shifting of authority for deciding such things from local communities to the state makes it hard to endorse the proposition.

It is scary to think that a simple majority of a city council can enact building design mandates on a whim, create havoc with the local housing market and economy, and then change things again after the next election cycle when new members are elected. And yet, we firmly believe that the best government is that which is closest to home, and if local voters are willing to allow that sort of authority to their representatives, shouldn’t they have the ability to do so?

If only we could mandate more thoughtful participation in the process by local voters.

As much as we would like to see more attention paid to the consequences of such building mandates, we are reluctant to endorse the idea of taking that authority away from community control.

Hopefully the simple fact that HB 302 has been introduced and is being debated will serve to fire a warning shot across the bow of governing agencies across the state and result in their giving more thoughtful consideration to the issue of establishing building design standards in the future.

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Online: https://www.gainesvilletimes.com/

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March 3

The Valdosta Daily Times on the state budget:

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Gov. Brian Kemp’s first budget is in the hands of the General Assembly.

It’s a big budget, with a lot of new spending.

It is $27.5 billion big and depends on revenue growth somewhere between 2 and 3 percent, or slightly more.

That represents a $1.3 billion increase over former Gov. Nathan Deal’s last budget.

Almost half a billion dollars in the swollen budget proposal will be used for raises for the state’s 115,000 teachers as part of Kemp’s campaign pledge to give Georgia teachers a $5,000 pay bump. The budget includes almost $3,000 per year for each teacher with a promise by Kemp for an additional $2,000 down the road.

His first spending package also includes 2 percent raises for state employees, costing almost $120 million.

Education and health-care costs account for about 70 percent of the total state budget.

It is important to note the state has a $2.55 billion rainy day fund which might lessen concerns over new spending but could raise concerns about sales tax, use tax and state income tax rates. Could Georgia residents see this as being overtaxed?

We are pleased with the transparency of the state’s budgeting process.

The governor’s office has been forthcoming with the administration’s intentions and processes.

The budget document itself is online and easy to access. The proposed budget and support documents can be found at: https://bit.ly/1TXDIJw

For those who are interested, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute offers a detailed analysis of the budget. While left-leaning, its analysis is detailed and seems to be respected by leaders in both parties. That information can be found at: https://bit.ly/2tIe1Yr

The biggest concerns about Kemp’s first budget are the growing of state government and the trajectory of increased spending.

It is not exactly a conservative approach.

Nevertheless, there are strong arguments to be made for increasing teacher pay, especially during a time when teacher walkouts across the country have put lawmakers in other states in a bind to find quick ways to fund raises and benefits to keep schools open.

On this front, Kemp is being proactive while sending a message that Georgia must continue to improve its public school systems.

With reservations about more spending and concerns regarding what that will mean if there is a significant economic downtown, we support this budget and urge our legislative delegation to adopt.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/

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March 4

The Augusta Chronicle on severe weather:

And tornado season has barely started.

The powerful storms that ripped through the Southeast on Sunday provide another sobering reminder — as all serious weather events do — that disaster readiness cannot be stressed enough.

At least a couple dozen people have died and many more were injured after a string of tornadoes cut across Alabama and Georgia, cutting across the state line just north of Columbus. Experts called it America’s deadliest tornado outbreak in almost six years.

The tornadoes also spurred storm warnings across the state and into South Carolina. The National Weather Service settled a debate among local residents: The howling winds around here formed at least two tornadoes in the Augusta area.

Edgefield County reported at least seven people injured in the storms as emergency officials assessed damage Monday. So did officials in Columbia County, who reported damage in several neighborhoods northwest of the center of Evans — a lot of debris, but thankfully no injuries.

Thousands of people in Alabama and Georgia still were without power as people sifted through the damage. Restoring power became increasingly crucial with news of temperatures dipping into the 30s Monday night.

March, April and May are the worst months in Georgia for tornadoes, but it wasn’t too long ago that the state saw tornado activity start brewing as early as January.

Severe Weather Preparedness Week was Feb. 4-8, but we’re willing to bet you didn’t mark the week by coming up with, or reacquainting your family with, an emergency preparedness plan. We don’t necessarily blame you — but not enough folks have such a plan, and you should.

Since a tornado won’t wait for a whole family to get together in one safe place before it unleashes its destruction, the Ready Georgia website — ready.ga.gov — can help guide you through how to be prepared the next time a huge storm blows across the area.

First: Each family needs a communications plan. Everyone should know how to contact one another and how to find one another if family members get separated.

A family also needs a ready kit — a store of emergency supplies that should help your group get by for at least three days. It should include food, water, first aid supplies and more. Ready Georgia has a superb suggested list, and it’s not that expensive to put together.

Also, know exactly where you’ll take shelter. Basements or storm cellars are best. If you can’t go underground, choose an interior room or a hallway on the lowest floor of the building you’re in.

And when you’re assessing damage, you’re likely poring over your insurance policy. State emergency officials recommend that, before a disaster, you make a list of valuables — jewelry, electronics, furniture — and take photos or videos of it all. Then store the picture evidence in a safe place outside your home, or by using a remote online service for your data. That way, your insurance agent can better evaluate the value of any loss.

According to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security, tornadoes are the state’s No. 1 weather-related killer.

You won’t always know if you’ll be a victim, but you always should know if you’re properly prepared.

Online: https://www.augustachronicle.com/