Truth-O-Meter points needle at state politics
By Willoughby Mariano
Published on Sunday, January 30th, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.
Georgia’s political engine is revved up for this year’s legislative session, and the Truth-O-Meter and Deal-O-Meter are, too.
Last week’s focus was on state issues -- ethics laws, health insurance and a major overhaul of the tax system.
There was good and bad news. New Gov. Nathan Deal made headway on two campaign promises. Others’ claims on taxes and ethics lacked truthiness.
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Promise: Deal will allow some Georgians to pool with individuals in other states to buy health insurance plans.
Georgia’s new governor is getting some help on a campaign promise from fellow Republicans in the state House of Representatives.
The lawmakers, led by Peachtree City’s Matt Ramsey, filed a bill on Jan. 12 that would allow Georgians to buy health insurance policies approved in other states. The idea, spelled out in House Bill 47, is to allow Georgians to buy insurance plans that are more flexible -- and, perhaps, cheaper.
Ramsey told us he didn’t have any discussions with Deal before submitting the bill. He did say he believes the legislation is in line with the governor’s philosophical views on expanding health insurance and that he expects to talk to Deal about it in the weeks ahead.
Similar legislation passed the House last year but stalled in the Georgia Senate because it got there too late, Ramsey said. Since the legislation is in the hopper, we believe this is a promise In The Works.
State Rep. Joe Wilkinson: A national organization says Georgia has one of America’s toughest ethics laws.
A coalition of government watchdog groups recently demanded tougher ethics guidelines for Georgia, saying there’s a culture of "low-level corruption" across the state.
Wilkinson, chairman of the House Ethics Committee and a Fulton County Republican, objected. A national organization ranked Georgia as having one of the toughest ethics laws in the nation, he said.
Is that true?
Wilkinson pointed to the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, which conducts investigations on a variety of issues.
It released a report in June 2009 that ranked each state on the transparency of its financial disclosure reports. It was based on 43 factors, including what information politicians are required to report about their employers, their investments and property. Georgia ranked seventh.
But the report only reviewed financial disclosures, not the entire scope of ethics guidelines. This includes the power of state agencies to regulate potential conflicts of interest, gifts from lobbyists and contributions from political action committees.
We rate Wilkinson’s statement False.
Promise: Create an education funding plan
The clock is ticking on one of Deal’s campaign promises.
"By June 30, 2011, Nathan Deal and a team of leaders will come up with possible improvements to better fund public education," the Deal campaign wrote in a policy paper in September.
On Tuesday, at the Georgia World Congress Center for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues breakfast, Deal announced that he will create a series of education advisory groups to assist him on education policy and financing. The governor said the five groups will consist of teachers, parents, principals, superintendents and local school board members. All five groups will have 13 members, with one team member from each of Georgia’s 13 congressional districts.
The governor told reporters afterward that he would appoint another commission that will look at Georgia’s Quality Basic Education formula.
Deal’s announcement is a step toward meeting his self-imposed deadline of June 30. Because of that, we consider this a promise In The Works.
Americans for Tax Reform: Recommendations for a major tax overhaul for Georgia are an "overall tax hike."
A proposal to overhaul Georgia’s tangled tax system recently earned the worst slur in the fiscal conservative book: "tax hike."
Americans for Tax Reform, a D.C. group that opposes all tax increases, called the proposal "akin to shards of glass in a delicious creme brulee," in a written statement Jan. 10. "It is a bit of desirable tax reform ruined by an overall tax hike."
ATR focused on whether the recommendations would increase overall state tax revenue.
We found ATR passed judgment before it had the numbers. A comprehensive set of revenue estimates has not been released. PolitiFact Georgia’s own analysis found that the tax overhaul could increase or cut taxes.
ATR also included a $1.23 billion boost in e-commerce revenue that recommendations cannot bring about on their own.
Calling the recommendation an "overall tax hike" is therefore akin to telling Georgians there are shards of glass in their creme brulee before it reaches the table.
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