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Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes

By Jim Tharpe June 15, 2010

Barnes suggests mining the Capitol for education gold

Okay, okay. We here at PolitiFact Georgia know that politicians are occasionally given to hyperbole.

From time to time the political class seems driven to test the bounds of rhetorical gravity. And we feel inclined to test what they say.

Take former Gov. Roy Barnes, a skilled orator and shrewd trial lawyer who to can turn on the aw-shucks routine with the best of them.

Earlier this year, Barnes spoke in Summerville as part of the Chattooga County Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting. And man-oh-man did he ever come up with the money quote as noted in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which reported it in a news story about his speech.

"If we have to scrape the gold off the gold dome, you make sure that education comes first," Mr. Barnes told the group, according to the news article. He made the same claim in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an opinion piece he penned in 2008. “If  we have to scrape the gold off the Capitol dome to do it, so be it. It's worth it, and we owe it to our children,’ Barnes wrote.

The state’s schools are in tough shape due to the grinding recession that has withered property values and diminished state and local coffers. The schools now need billions to avoid furloughs, layoffs and school closings.

Chris Carpenter, Barnes’ campaign manager, said Barnes made the statement to show how important he considers education. The former governor has also mentioned closing the Governor’s Mansion and the state Capitol – the same one he wants to relieve of its gold top – to raise money for state schools.

“He just thinks public education is the No 1 priority,” Carpenter said.  “Obviously there is some rhetorical flourish there.”

Flourish, smourish. We wanted to know how much the state could get if it the gold leaf was actually scraped off the venerable old dome and sold.

Not a lot, as it turns out, despite the fact that gold has recently surged past $1,200 an ounce.

Gold first graced the dome after a late 1950s Capitol renovation in which the old tin-covered dome as was done up in 43 ounces of the glittering stuff. It was milled to 1/5000th of an inch thick before being affixed to the roof. The gold originally traveled to Atlanta from Dahlonega, site of the nation’s first gold rush, in a caravan of seven mule-drawn covered wagons, which took three days to reach Atlanta.

The gold was expected to last thirty or forty years but by the late 1970s it had deteriorated to the point that the dome to be re-gilded, a project completed in 1981.

Mike Kramer, owner and president of The Gilder’s Studio, runs the Maryland-based company that re-gilded the dome again in 1998. Workers first scraped off what was left of the old gold.

“We had people that parked at the Capitol complaining because we were getting gold scrapings on their cars,” Kramer said in a telephone interview.

Kramer reckons his company used about 85 ounces of gold gilding material. He said the new dome should be good for another 20 or even 30 years – as long as politicians don’t start scraping on it.

As for Barnes’ idea about cashing in on the shiny Capitol covering, Kramer was, well, less than enthusiastic.

“You’d have to dry scrape it off, and I’d probably charge a hundred-grand for that,” he said.  “Then you have to contain it. Then you have to refine because it’s attached to the zinc-chromate primer.”

Kramer figured that only about 60 ounces of the original gold could be salvaged. A refiner would charge you 20 percent or so to extract it once it was scraped off, he said.

So at $1,200 an ounce, you get about $72,000 for 60 ounces. Subtract the refiner’s fee and you’re down to $57,600. By the time you pay Kramer his $100,000 for scraping the orb in the first place, you are actually in the hole by more than $40,000.

“You’re not going to make any money,” Kramer said.

In fact you would lose money, and end up with a naked Capitol dome. And nobody wants that. We give the former governor a Pants On Fire for this one.

Our Sources

Chattanooga Times Free Press article Feb. 13, 2010

Op-Ed, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/1/2008

New Georgia Encyclopedia article.

Telephone interview with Mike Kramer, May 27

Telephone interview with Chris Carpenter, May 27

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Barnes suggests mining the Capitol for education gold

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