Georgia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Gainesville Times on corporate recruiting in Georgia:
Once upon a time, when the Amazon was merely a river in South America, governments would welcome a new business to town by perhaps putting in a road, maybe with a traffic light. Bending over backward was seldom the standard procedure.
But times have changed, and efforts to attract corporate giants and the jobs they bring puts cities and states all-in by offering financial incentives in a poker game where the stakes keep rising.
Georgia is a key player in this corporate recruiting bonanza. The state has lured several huge manufacturers and corporate headquarters in recent years while becoming Hollywood South through tax incentives for the motion picture business.
Now Atlanta is on a list of 20 cities left bidding for a new headquarters for goliath online retailer Amazon, which seeks a second hub beyond its Seattle home. The new site is expected to cost some $5 billion and could bring as many as 50,000 jobs. Competition is intense, with cities sweetening the pot to lure a company that is at the forefront in redefining how Americans shop. So far, the 20 suitors have tossed some $22 billion in tax incentives onto the table.
Georgia’s package is said to top $1 billion, and it’s willing to up the ante. Gov. Nathan Deal has considered convening a special session of the state legislature this summer, if necessary, to increase the offer. Already, one Atlanta developer has proposed a project downtown that just happens to encompass the likely size and $5 billion price tag for the “HQ2.”
Tax incentives are key, too. But a column on Thursday’s Opinion page by Michael Farren, a research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said Amazon may also consider other intangibles when deciding on its new home. A few billion in tax breaks may be a drop in the bucket to a company that brought in $175 billion last year and whose founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, is the wealthiest person in world history.
Amazon’s checklist for a new site includes a metro area with more than 1 million people, within 45 minutes of an international airport and access to mass transit; the ability to attract top technical talent; and a site that could be expanded to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade. It is also likely to weigh infrastructure, schools and other qualify of life issues for its workers. Though Atlanta ranks high in most areas, its horrible highway traffic and limited mass transit may be its Achilles’ heel.
Another factor could be the political environment of the host state. And herein may lie the rub: Politics being what it is, there are those in both parties who could torpedo Georgia’s bid.
It’s already evident that not everyone under the Gold Dome is on the same page when it comes to baiting the hook for Amazon. Some groups say proposed bills that appear hostile to immigrants or gays could make Georgia appear to be intolerant of diversity. Among the bills in the hopper are a move to make English the state’s official language, creation of a non-citizen driver’s license status and a tax on electronic money transfers out of the state, which would affect migrant workers.
And there’s also the endless push to add a religious freedom amendment to the state constitution, a proposal vetoed by the governor in 2016. State leaders are trying to discourage its revival, especially while the Amazon decision remains in the balance. Yet all four Republicans running for governor have signed a pledge backing such a plan, and its supporters aren’t easing up.
We don’t favor any of these ideas, on merit. Religious freedom is covered by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and immigration reform is a national priority that needs to originate in Washington, not Atlanta, and aim to solve the problem of undocumented residents, not just drive them elsewhere.
Nevertheless, lawmakers still have a job to do, and retain the right to introduce and debate these topics and allow them to fail or pass on their own. If the Amazon decision drives every item on the legislative agenda, the tail is wagging the dog.
The aforementioned bills lead some to wonder just how committed some political leaders are to attracting Amazon or other outside companies. One state senator and GOP candidate for governor decried how a flood of newcomers could fill the new jobs and strain infrastructure, even though it’s likely the extra revenue from the taxes those workers pay would help fund such services.
Unspoken in such concern is that workers who migrate from the “Left Coast” would more likely vote Democratic and could tilt the state’s political balance enough to, as one Georgia Tea Party member said, “turn the state blue.” Any plan that dilutes a party’s strength by introducing new voters who favor the other side is going to face opposition, no matter who is in control.
Democrats, meanwhile, seem less on board with handing out tax goodies to corporations, and would rather see money spent on government services for voters who support their candidates.
Some may think it cynical to see political motives in every issue. But just as a leopard can’t change its spots, politicians are driven to win elections, and their stance on any policy will be held up to the light to see how it wins or loses votes. That’s just the nature of the beast.
In the end, Amazon will come here if the fit is right. Leaders in Georgia and Atlanta need to ease off the gas and earn the bid based on the state’s strengths already in place: Great climate, a world-class airport, a ready workforce and Southern hospitality. Tax incentives will help, but there’s no need to raid the piggybank to lure 50,000 jobs when Georgians still need good roads, schools, police and hospitals.
Georgia’s bid is out there, it’s competitive, and Amazon knows what it would be getting. It’s time to let it ride and go about conducting the state’s business.
The Marietta Daily Journal on state senators grandstanding rather than helping foster kids:
“Annie” is the story of a young girl trapped in an orphanage run by the bedraggled alcoholic Miss Hannigan. Annie’s dream of adoption comes true after she crosses paths with billionaire Daddy Warbucks.
Casting the Georgia Senate as the villain in this tale would not be much of a stretch. For the second consecutive year, the Senate has shown complete disregard for Georgia’s orphaned children who dream of family.
The games began last year. After spending two years researching, studying and rewriting the state’s dated adoption laws, Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, filed legislation that modernized those laws into the 21st century. Reeves was careful to craft a nonpartisan bill that remained neutral on divisive social issues while cutting the bureaucratic red tape. His goal was to help the Peach State’s 13,000 foster care children find stable, loving homes, not roll around in the culture wars for the sake of headlines and airtime.
The time spent adopting a child in foster care in Georgia is two and a half times the length of the national average. The process is such a byzantine mess many leave Georgia to adopt newborns in other states.
Reeves’ work paid off, and in the 2017 session, his bill rocketed through the House by unanimous vote. It was in the Senate Judiciary Committee that professional grandstander Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, chose to, well, grandstand. Alerting Reeves a mere hour before the hearing was set to begin, Ligon informed him he tacked on controversial language that would allow adoption agencies working with the state to decide against placing children with same-sex couples.
Bobby Cagle, director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, warned that if the revised bill became law, it would violate federal law and could cost the state hundreds of millions in federal funding.
Regardless, the Senate committee, which at that time included Hunter Hill, now a candidate for governor, passed the bill with Ligon’s radioactive language. Much-needed, bipartisan adoption reform turned into lightning rod legislation, pitting social conservatives against progressives. Predictably, the bill went nowhere.
To be clear, no one is suggesting Ligon isn’t free to author discriminatory legislation to his heart’s content. If he wants to engage in fawning, moral posturing, no one is stopping him. But he should have the decency to file such legislation on his own rather than hijack Reeves’ bill and essentially cause adoption reform to crash and burn. Decency is often very much lacking among professional politicians, isn’t it?
The question for this year’s legislative session: Would the Senate once again play games with Reeves’ adoption bill? The answer’s been rendered. After being rebuked by Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston about last year’s antics, Senate leadership dropped the Ligon language. But they weren’t about to leave Reeves’ bill alone.
In a loathsome act of sabotage, they once again vandalized Reeves’ bill by adding legislation Deal vetoed last year.
Irene Munn, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s general counsel and policy director, walked the Senate Judiciary Committee through the changes. The committee smugly refused to allow Reeves to say a word during the hearing, approving it 8-2 on Jan. 10. A week later, the full Senate approved it 40-13.
The legislative leech attached to Reeves’ bill gives a parent the authority to transfer custody of their child for up to a year to another person or entity without judicial involvement. Deal vetoed it last year, arguing the bill brought unintended consequences.
Senators, many with egos so swollen it’s a wonder they can fit in the higher chamber, were not about to accept that veto lying down. By attaching the vetoed legislation to Reeves’ bill, the senators are daring the governor to veto the adoption bill. Because if he vetoes the bill, they can head out on the campaign trail and say with smirking insincerity: “We passed the bill, but the governor killed it.”
Forgotten in this cartoonish display of chest-thumping is Reeves’ effort to help the 13,000 foster kids in Georgia.
We are not here to argue the merits of this latest amendment for the same reason explained with Ligon’s previous amendment. The issue is not the quality of these amendments, but the fact that they are deliberately shipwrecking adoption reform.
Laws are like sausages, the old saying goes. It’s better not to see them being made.
We would apply another porcine adage. Only the Georgia Senate could turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear.
The Augusta Chronicle on why other states deserve the same waiver from offshore drilling that Florida received:
Those of us who lived through Sept. 11, 2001 will never forget the cloud of horror, sadness and dread that drifted over our lives for weeks and months afterward.
It was a nearly indescribable sense of unease that sat in the pit of one’s stomach as it fermented anxiety day in and day out.
For many of us, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana spawned a similar summer-long anxiety. Every day after the April 20, 2010 explosion at the Gulf of Mexico rig — until it was capped July 15, and then declared sealed that September — the thought of oil spewing into the gulf waters and onto area beaches formed a black, gooey cloud in our psyches.
It was the 9-11 of the sea, the Chernobyl of offshore drilling, the worst marine oil spill in history. It was, in a word, awful. And we never want to go there again.
The only way to come close to ensuring we don’t go there again is not to open up more of our fragile, sensitive coastlines to offshore drilling.
While the Trump administration announced Jan. 4 it would open up most coastal waters to offshore oil and gas exploration, this newspaper is adamantly, unalterably, absolutely and altogether opposed to it, in the strongest terms possible.
And we are in good company: Governors and other officials of coastal states from Florida to Oregon — with the exception of those in Alaska and Maine — are likewise squarely against increased offshore drilling.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott quickly sought — and received — a waiver from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, meaning the Sunshine State has opted out of offshore drilling. Understandably. And just like that.
It made officials in other states wonder why they, too, couldn’t opt out just as easily. We certainly hope Georgia and South Carolina are able to — but, in truth, we want the entire plan scrapped.
Just as Florida, America’s other coastal states depend heavily on tourism, fishing and ocean-related industries. The risk to them, to the environment, and to the psyche is just too great, and far overshadows any energy industry gain to be had by drilling off our precious beaches and cliffs.
Moreover, the singular granting of a waiver to just one state — with but a conversation among state and federal officials — would be impossible to defend in a court of law.
“It seems incredibly hard to justify or explain that this is anything other than arbitrary or capricious,” Reuters quoted Sierra Weaver, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“Offshore drilling decisions in the United States are, by law, supposed to be guided by science, public input, and a careful balancing of environmental and energy needs,” adds Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress and former deputy chief of staff under Obama’s Interior Department.
If political considerations matter — as Florida’s waiver shows they do — then waivers should quickly be forthcoming up and down America’s coastlines.
Indeed, the Miami Herald reports that Florida Gov. Scott was the last governor to object to the drilling plan — yet was first to win his state an exemption from it, while the rest of the states are still threatened by drilling. How does that happen?
Some — including Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson — suspect the Trump administration’s exempting the state from offshore drilling is a way to shore up Gov. Scott’s political bona fides in advance of an expected Senate run against Nelson.
“It’s surprising that it was as simple as Gov. Scott asking to be taken out of the drilling plan when really most of the other coastal governors have done the same, and they’re not out of the drilling plan,” said Jennifer Rubiello, director of Environment Florida, told the Herald.
Whatever the case is, other states deserve the same consideration. Period.
Sec. Zinke’s claim that “Florida is unique and that its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver” is demonstrably false. While Florida’ beaches are some of the best not just in the country but in the world, neither their beauty nor the state’s reliance on them for tourism dollars is unique.
Ask South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, or North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — all of whom want waivers. Notably, McMaster was one of Mr. Trump’s earliest supporters. Christie was one of Trump’s earliest primary rivals to endorse him.
“I am opposed to offshore drilling off South Carolina’s shore, I’m opposed to seismic testing off South Carolina’s shore,” McMaster has said. “Our tourism industry and glorious natural resources are beyond compare in the United States, they are a source of enormous economic growth and prosperity and we cannot take a chance with those resources, those industries, and that economy.”
“If we can exempt Florida, based on — as Sec. Zinke put it — ‘an unusually high degree of tourism reliance,’” says Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., “well, then, the same certainly ought to exist for South Carolina.”
Coastal tourism may not be the 800-pound gorilla in Georgia that it is in South Carolina, but it’s huge.
Not to mention our coastal environment, which includes precious and fragile barrier islands.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s office says he “has concerns about opening up Georgia’s pristine coastline and will convey those concerns to the congressional delegation.”
We would respectfully urge Gov. Deal to be more definitive — by flat opposing the drilling, and vociferously.
There is no way this can stand if we all rise up against it.