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Fight brews over tax election date
Governor signs state redistricting
If the currently proposed congressional redistricting is proposed this area's U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, would retain Moody Air Force Base in Warner Robins in his 1st District. - photo by File photo

Online: Georgia Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office:

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday signed into law the maps redrawing political boundaries for Georgia's 236 state lawmakers, and abandoned for now plans to shift a public vote on a transportation hike to the November 2012 ballot.

The move to delay voting on the date change came amid fervent tea party opposition. Hours after the governor's office announced an agreement had been reached among GOP leaders to move all local sales tax votes to the general election ballot, the deal was all but done as confusion erupted at the state Capitol. House Speaker David Ralston said talks of consensus on the issue were "premature" Wednesday afternoon and floated the idea of tabling the measure until January.

Earlier this year, Georgia lawmakers voted to allow 12 regions throughout the state to ask residents whether to approve a 1-cent sales tax hike to fund a pre-approved list of projects. The public votes were set for the July 2012 primary.

Supporters, including the governor, called to move the vote to November to increase voter participation.

The transportation fight is expected to be fiercest in the metro Atlanta region, where congestion is among the worst in the nation. Officials in the 10-county Atlanta region on Monday approved a $6.14 billion draft list of transportation projects.

If voters sign off, it would be the area's biggest single infrastructure investment in decades. A final vote is scheduled for October following public comment.

Ralston said he and GOP leaders have been discussing what to do about moving the date, but was adamant that a solution had not yet been reached.

"Both parties are working in good faith ... to reach an agreement that everybody is comfortable with, but we still have some work to do," Ralston told reporters Wednesday.

By Wednesday evening, Deal and House and Senate Republicans decided to drop the transportation tax from the special session calendar.

"We've had a healthy debate on the T-SPLOST referendum date here at the Gold Dome," Deal said in a statement less than seven hours after he announced the agreement. "I'm a supporter of the referendum, and I believe it's important to job creation and economic development throughout Georgia. I further believe that it is a sound conservative principle to allow as many taxpayers as possible to participate in this important decision. Our time during this special session, however, is precious, and it's now obvious that it will take too much time to reach a consensus on changing the date. It's best for taxpayers that we not let this special session drag on. Redistricting was our priority, and we have delivered a great product."

Critics have said moving all the local tax votes to the general election is the fair thing to do, rather than singling out one issue. Tea party leaders were especially vocal, saying it's unfair to change plans simply to maximize the tax hike's chance of passing. They refused to support the move unless lawmakers added an amendment mandating that all local tax votes take place during the fall general election.

Tea Party Patriots State Coordinator Julianne Thompson began the day lauding Republicans for their leadership on the issue. By the day's end, Thompson had changed her tune.

"Our people would be extremely disappointed if anything happened at this point where the speaker's office took any action to try to delay this matter," said Tea Party Patriots State Coordinator Julianne Thompson after hearing Ralston backing away from a confirmed agreement. "We do commend them for working together, and we strongly encourage the speaker's office to move forward with this."

The Senate was openly divided on the issue. Some, like Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, say perhaps tabling the transportation tax vote until January — when the Legislature reconvenes — could be a good idea.

"This changes the rules to affect the outcome," said Loudermilk, who was leaning towards voting against the measure. "It's a tough call. I understand where (supporters) are coming from. Monies are needed, especially in the metro area. But is this the right thing to do?"

Several Democrats, still reeling from a redistricting battle in which they accused their GOP colleagues of racial and political gerrymandering, also refused to support the transportation vote. Minority Whip Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, called the proposal "bad policy and bad politics."

"It would be a bitter irony for Democrats and African-Americans to help Republicans pass a TSPLOST change when they have treated us so brutally in the redistricting process," said Fort. "It is unfathomable that Republicans can work to destroy African-American voting strength and then ask us to pass this."

In calling for the special session which began Aug. 15, Deal put the issue of changing the transportation tax vote date on the calendar, making the measure the most important issue aside from the redrawing of the state and congressional political boundaries as is federally required once a decade in response to population changes as reported by the U.S. Census.

The legislative maps must still receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts under the Voting Rights Act.

With the state's political boundaries approved and the transportation tax vote off the table for now, lawmakers have a short list left to complete, including approving the proposed congressional maps, which were approved in a House committee meeting and will likely head the House floor next week.

The proposed congressional map targets U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Savannah, the Deep South's last white Democrat. On Wednesday, his colleague and a leading civil rights figure U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, said such a plan resegregates the state.

Republicans defended the map, which adds a fourth district with a majority of black voters and also creates a new district fueled by population growth in the conservative northeast corner of the state.

"This plan does not retrogress, it progresses, in my opinion," House redistricting committee chairman Roger Lane said. He added that the districts with a majority of black voters would be protected under the Voting Rights Act in the next round of reapportionment a decade from now..

Lewis also expressed reservations about his own new district. Under the proposal he would lose part of Buckhead, in Atlanta, to U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey. It would mark the first time in recent history that a Republican would represent a portion of Atlanta.

House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican, said the city's clout in Washington would improve with bipartisan representation.

Georgia is gaining a congressional seat — its 14th — because of its increasing population. The district would be placed in northeast corner of the state and is widely expected to be a Republican gain.

The House Redistricting panel approved the map by a voice vote. It now heads to the Rules Committee, which must send the proposal to a vote by the full House.

Lawmakers must adjust political boundaries every 10 years to conform to new U.S. Census data.

There were a few changes made to the original proposal unveiled on Monday:

— Moody Air Force Base was moved into the 1st congressional district represented by U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, who sits on the military subcommittee of the House Appropriations panel.

— Some precincts in Fayette County were shifted from the Democratic 13th congressional district to the 3rd district, which is Republican.

— The 2nd congressional district represented by U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop picked up some additional precincts in Muscogee County.

— There was a swap of some precincts between the new 11th and 6th congressional districts. The 11th district picks up some parts of Sandy Springs and the 6th inherits some parts of east Cobb County.


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