The chump test

On the face of it, the pri­vate cities mea­suer looks like a stan­dard piece of Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tion. It would get the gov­ern­ment out of the way and let pri­vate en­ter­prise do its thing. You know, just like W and friends called off the reg­u­la­tors to let Wa

The Covington News - - Opinion -

Look out. Our friends in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly have qui­etly plugged a few words into the Nov. 4 bal­lot to test vot­ers. They want to know if we are still chumps.

The law­mak­ers’ words, if ap­proved by vot­ers, would al­low pri­vate de­vel­op­ers to take over the du­ties of the tax col­lec­tor. Known as Amend­ment 3, the lan­guage al­lows pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions to con­struct de­vel­op­ments and then levy taxes to pay for ser­vices or what­ever. The mid­dle­man, namely the elected gov­ern­ment, would be left out of the equa­tion.

Your friendly land­lord would de­cide when and how much lo­cal taxes you pay and for what pur­pose. If an un­scrupu­lous land­lord gets into a fi­nan­cial jam, he could sim­ply dream up a rea­son to jack up his ten­ants’ taxes to cover the debt. What a deal!

If vot­ers adopt this amend­ment, it would mark the first time in his­tory that Ge­or­gians al­lowed pri­vate in­ter­ests to usurp the du­ties of elected of­fi­cials and levy taxes.

The pri­vate cities mea­sure has about as much busi­ness be­ing on this year’s bal­lot as a skunk does in church.

I have sym­pa­thy for some law­mak­ers who worked so hard on the amend­ment.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Eric John­son, R-Sa­van­nah, who is likely to run for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor in a cou­ple of years, is said to have toted so much wa­ter for the de­vel­op­ers that he may have hurt his back.

On the face of it, the pri­vate cities mea­sure looks like a stan­dard piece of Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tion. It would get the gov­ern­ment out of the way and let pri­vate en­ter­prise do its thing. You know, just like W and friends called off the reg­u­la­tors to let Wall Street play foot­ball without ref­er­ees with tril­lions of dol­lars of our money.

With the fed­eral ref­er­ees side­lined, the foot­ball game turned into a costly, any­thing­goes brawl. So far, tax­pay­ers have had to cough up a $750 bil­lion wel­fare check to keep afloat some of the na­tion’s big­gest banks. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of homes have been seized for fore­clo­sure. Un­em­ploy­ment, partly due to the slump in construction, is ris­ing. And, well, you know the rest …

The next pres­i­dent is li­able to in­herit a sick na­tional econ­omy, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1929 when an­other anti- reg­u­la­tor, Her­bert Hoover, told us not to worry.

So here we are in 2008, our faces fur­rowed with worry, our sav­ings in jeop­ardy, our chil­dren’s fu­ture cloudy — and what does the Peach State Leg­is­la­ture do?

An­swer: What it usu­ally does — make the wrong move at the wrong time.

With our fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions tot­ter­ing around us and thou­sands of new homes stand­ing empty, Ge­or­gia’s law­mak­ers want to let de­vel­op­ers get to work on pri­vate dis­tricts with a Keep Out, Gov­ern­ment! sign on the gates. They’ve got to be kid­ding. The pri­vate cities idea has been mak­ing the rounds in Ge­or­gia at least since 2005. Big-time Ge­or­gia lob­by­ist Ted Gra­ham flew Sen. John­son and sev­eral other leg­is­la­tors to Florida to view a pri­vate city for the el­derly.

Known as the Vil­lages, the pri­vate city near Lees­burg, Fla., serves as home to about 57,000 geez­ers. The Vil­lages is ac­tu­ally a se­ries of com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment tax dis­tricts that act as a sin­gle pri­vate city with the pri­vate power to is­sue bonds and col­lect taxes. The pri­vate de­vel­oper serves as sort of a vil­lage king with pow­ers that are a real monarch’s dream. Of course, the Florida guy wears a hard hat in­stead of a be­jew­eled crown and is be­holden only to his bankers.

Our law­mak­ers were shown the Vil­lages to in­tro­duce them to pri­vate cities so that en­abling leg­is­la­tion for such en­ter­prises could be in­tro­duced in Ge­or­gia.

That is how Amend­ment 3 came to be on the bal­lot this year, just as the bot­tom be­gan fall­ing out of Wall Street and the gi­ant ATM in the sky jammed.

Oh, I for­got to tell you: Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Perry, a close pal and le­gal coun­sel to Gov. Sonny Per­due, spon­sored pri­vate cities leg­is­la­tion tai­lored for a de­vel­op­ment in Hous­ton County.

You re­mem­ber Larry, don’t you? He’s the guy who in­tro­duced spe­cial leg­is­la­tion that gave Gov. Per­due a hefty break on his taxes.

This Ge­or­gia pri­vate cities con­cept may fi­nally in­volve Oaky Woods, a huge de­vel­op­ment ad­ja­cent to some of Sonny’s prop­erty in Hous­ton County. We’ll tell you about that later. We don’t want you suf­fer­ing in­for­ma­tion over­load. We’ll keep the good stuff about Oaky Woods and Amend­ment 3 un­til we know the re­sults of the leg­is­la­tors’ chump test for vot­ers on Nov. 4.

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