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Georgia editorial roundup

June 7, 2018

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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June 3

The Valdosta Daily Times on gubernatorial candidates releasing their tax returns:

Readers may have had a hard time keeping a straight face reading the article about Republican state leaders calling for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to release her tax returns.

After all, the GOP is the same party that defended Donald Trump when he refused to release his tax returns in the 2016 presidential election.

And state Republicans didn’t seem to have a problem in 2010 when Nathan Deal faced questions about his personal finances when he first ran for governor. He eventually released some of his tax returns eight years ago, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. But in 2014, neither Gov. Deal nor Democratic challenger Jason Carter released tax returns.

So, a press conference led by Republicans demanding a Democratic candidate release her tax returns seemed like something from Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.”

State Republican Party Chairman John Watson stood with two prominent Republican women — Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones and state Sen. Renee Unterman — and posed this question: What is Stacey Abrams hiding?

There’s no dispute that Jones and Unterman raised sharp questions about Abrams’ ability to handle a state budget when she owes the IRS more than $50,000.

“I do question whether or not the Democratic nominee has the financial acuity and decision-making on her own personal level, much less that on behalf of over 10 million people,” Jones said.

Jones also criticized Abrams for loaning her campaign $50,000 instead of repaying the tax lien and accused her of using her public position to enrich herself. Abrams has said she is on a payment plan with the federal government.

A pending ethics complaint filed by Georgia Ethics Watchdogs against Abrams also questions nearly $84,000 that was reimbursed from campaign committees without explanation, according to a report published last week in The Valdosta Daily Times.

Abrams representatives claim she will release her tax returns once the GOP selects its nominee for governor. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp are both Republican candidates for governor. They face each other in a primary runoff July 24.

We’re happy to hear Abrams plans to release her tax returns at that time.

And we agree with the sentiment expressed by the GOP officials. Abrams should release her tax returns.

But Donald Trump should have released his tax returns, too.

The 2014 gubernatorial candidates of both parties should have released their returns, too.

And whether it is Cagle or Kemp, the 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate should release his returns, too.

Releasing tax returns is a good idea. It allows voters the opportunity to scrutinize a candidate’s personal financial successes, challenges and failures. It serves as proof or evidence against the claims of a candidate or the candidate’s opposition.

But to stand silent while one leader does not release tax returns then mounting a vocal protest demanding the release of an opponent’s returns, without expressing a whit of irony, is more than just obvious partisanship.

It is cynical politics. It is sadly comical. It is the state of the state and the state of the nation. It is a reflection of us.

We get the leaders we deserve. And there’s nothing funny about that.

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

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June 4

The Brunswick News says the state historic tax credit could use some tweaking:

From where we sit, Georgia’s historic preservation tax incentives may need a little tweaking.

Brunswick is home to plenty of houses and buildings that would benefit from rehabilitation. Many of them are in the heart of the Old Town historic district that is on the National Register of Historic Places, a prerequisite for qualifying for the tax credits.

But when Robin Durant, who owns Bayou Fleet, a riverboat shipping company in Louisiana, applied for the credits after beautifully restoring several extremely dilapidated houses on Howe Street in the historic district, he was denied. The denial, according to the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the credits, said the floors Durant used and some molding and other features were not in line with the standard that “the removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.”

We understand the desire to keep things as they were to preserve history, but considering the condition of the turn-of-the-20th-century shotgun houses Durant restored when he purchased them in 2004, it is difficult to stomach the knowledge that finishing pieces like crown molding and floor materials may halt future projects he is planning. Durant owns a few buildings on Newcastle Street he had hoped to rehabilitate using the same credits, but he said if he cannot receive the credits through appeals, he may not have the money needed to complete them.

In this case, a state law intended to promote projects like Durant’s on Howe Street that saved six historic cottages from what most certainly would have been demolition may now prevent him from following through on others.

If DNR officials are following the law as it is written and are obliged only to enforce the guidelines with no authority to consider things like economic development and neighborhood revitalization, it is time to alter the law to allow for those considerations.

The Howe Street Cottages turned eyesores into gems, as the Brunswick Historic Preservation Board noted in 2017. They are being used as homes, just as they were before, but they have been outfitted with the modern amenities that make them comfortable today.

There should be a balance between making an attractive space by today’s standards and historic characteristics. The two may not always match, which is when the DNR should have the option to use its discretion when a project is meaningful to improving a community.

Other projects that have been approved include Ponce City Market in Atlanta — a re-imagined warehouse that includes retail, restaurant and residential units — and The Grey — restaurant in Savannah that opened in an old bus station. They are both worthy projects for the tax credits. Both may have kept certain features that were historic to the original use of the buildings, but are far from operating as they originally did.

DNR officials said they work with projects like The Grey to identify “historical character defining features,” as required by the guidelines for the credit. Durant said officials have not visited his project, something we believe could have helped him the way it did other projects.

But then again, we have become accustomed to the reality that unless you are in a bigger city like Atlanta or Savannah, you might not get the same consideration as the favorite children of state government.

Of the 341 project that have been approved for the tax credits, 292 have been in just 10 of the 159 counties in Georgia, and 277 of those have been in the six most populated counties of Fulton, Bibb, Chatham, Muscogee, Richmond and Dekalb. That reads to us as Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Columbus and Augusta.

Perhaps with some tweaking, the credit could meet the recommendation ... by Georgia State University that suggested “The program should consider modifying the award process in a manner that encourages the geographic diversity of the projects between urban and rural areas and across the state.”

Online: https://thebrunswicknews.com

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June 3

Gainesville Times says heavy rains after a recent drought have emphasized water issues back:

Not enough rain. Too much rain. The see-saw weather and its effect on Lake Lanier has again tilted the other way.

Two summers ago, North Georgia was in the grips of a drought that dropped the lake some 10 feet below full pool, drying up coves, leaving docks in the mud, exposing underwater objects and discouraging tourism at beaches and parks ringed by unsightly shorelines.

Normal rains helped ease worries last year and eventually restored the lake to normal levels. But in recent weeks, an early tropical storm brought heavy rains to the state. After a soggy Memorial Day weekend, a half-foot of rain caused streets to flood in Helen and washed over part of a highway. A few days later, rain washed out a culvert in Flowery Branch and damaged water pipes, affecting pressure to homes.

At Lanier, water levels have risen 3 feet past full pool and have inundated the docks and the timing tower at Lake Lanier Olympic Park, leading to a two-week delay in the Dragon Boat Challenge. Several boat ramps, beaches and parks have been closed until the water recedes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Lanier, responded by increasing water releases from Buford Dam downstream. Releases will run for 24 hours over the next two weeks to lower the level, said E. Patrick Robbins, Mobile District spokesman.

Friday, the Lake Lanier Association asked the corps to hold off on such releases over fear of too much water flowing downstream and its belief the lake’s summer full pool level should be raised to 1,073 feet above sea level to increase water storage for the droughts yet to come. Considering the capricious nature of the weather, that might be wise.

This discussion and the long-term effects of such moves are timely, not just because of the weather but that water releases from the dam are the crux of the two-decade dispute between Georgia and Florida over the amount of water in the Chattahoochee River basin allowed to reach those thirsty little oysters in Apalachicola Bay.

That dispute will enter its next chapter by the end of this month when the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling over the lawsuit filed by Florida over Georgia’s water use. The case was heard last year by a court-appointed special master, Maine attorney Ralph Lancaster, who ruled Florida had no case to limit our state’s water use through its claims of mismanagement by metro Atlanta and farms down state.

Yet at the Supreme Court hearing in January, lawyers from both states faced tough questioning from the justices. That led some to speculate the court may look for a compromise solution that would grant Florida some of what it wants rather than come down fully on one side or the other.

It all flows together: Searing drought. Torrential rains. Courtroom drama. Nature volleys our water back and forth while everyone waits for the line judges to decide who should get more of it.

The court’s ruling, while much-anticipated, is unlikely to resolve a dispute that has raged unabated for 20-plus years through several governors’ administrations. Other suits are pending, some involving Alabama, the third state in the water tango, and the corps. At some point, too, it’s possible Congress could get involved in how the corps has redrawn its water-use manuals for Lanier and the river basin. It’s a midterm election year and potential campaign fodder for lawmakers looking to score points.

It’s also an election that will produce new governors in Georgia and Florida, and perhaps a fresh chance to negotiate a deal outside of the courts both states can live with. Georgia’s Nathan Deal and Florida’s Rick Scott began such talks a few times over the years but were unable to come to an agreement. Three years ago, a group of river basin stakeholders outside of state politics devised a plan they believed would equitably share the water. But the governments didn’t buy in, and political pressure in Florida led to the federal suit, ending any hopes of a brokered deal.

Depending how the court rules, the new governors might want to start talks fresh rather than rely on the justices or the clouds to provide relief. Better still, the stakeholders’ plan could be revived as a blueprint for a solution all states can live with.

Win or lose, this feud has been an expensive one for both states. Georgia’s legal tab for its dozens of lawyers has topped $50 million in the last four years, and Florida has spent even more. That’s money both states could use for schools, public safety, transportation or refunds to taxpayers rather than keeping teams of attorneys in stylish Italian shoes. One way or another, this needs to end.

It’s clearly evident how fickle the weather can be in the Southeast, and legal deliberations or legislative action are just as uncertain. Somehow, someway, sober heads need to rise above this unending conflict to devise a way to share the water in the basin fairly, both when there’s a little and when there’s a lot. Based on recent history, we know it often will be one or the other.

Online: https://www.gainesvilletimes.com

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