To understand the Georgia General Assembly, think of it this way: It is a convention of wolves. The wolves howl together for 40 days each year in Atlanta with a single purpose: to consider what they can do next to the sheep.
We are the sheep.
The 2007 howling is on its way to setting a record for fleecing and devouring us poor lambs.
Predatory ideas pending before the current Legislature comprise a long and frightening list.
Here are three examples:
- Rip up the coast: At least a half-dozen measures, guided by some of the most talented and well-paid lobbyists in the state, would lift restrictions on development of Georgia’s precious marshlands and barrier islands. If half of these proposals pass, Jekyll Island will become Coney Island South, and Georgia’s coast will shortly make Florida’s packed Redneck Riviera seem like a desolate strand by comparison. Developers believe that opening up the marshes and islands to nearly unbridled development may accelerate a 21st-century Georgia gold rush, which has already begun. Others see it as the Yazoo Land Fraud revisited.
- Exploit pensions: Some lawmakers won’t have to move sand and swamp to find treasure. A pot of gold is sitting right under their noses. State pension funds have been ripe for rip-off for a long time. It’s a wonder they have survived until now. Senate Bill 80 allows state employee pension funds to be invested in very-high-risk ventures, and, at the same time, blocks the investment schemes from public scrutiny. Look out, pensioners; the wolves are at the door. Beware, educators. You may be next!
- Feed the sharks: Payday lending is back. House Rules Chairman Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, is the driving force behind this egregious predatory lending bill that permits sky-high interest rates (often termed “fees”) and frightening collection tactics. The typical payday borrower pays back $793 for a $325 loan, according to an industry report. This bill, touted as helpful to poor Georgians with no credit, is so awful that even Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has denounced it. The Pentagon has demanded that military personnel be barred from using the so-called service. Payday lending is presently illegal in Georgia; HB 63 would make it OK.
Oxendine is the chief policeman for regulated small loan companies and receives campaign contributions from them. Ehrhart’s cozy relationship with the payday-loan guys would make a stripper blush. Plane trips, football tickets and thousands of dollars in campaign contributions are just the first gifts sent with affection to old Earl from his slick-suited payday pals.
One other thing: If you think the Legislative Black Caucus is dead-set against this plain-as-day minority-targeted bill, you would be wrong. African-American lawmakers are split. Some say they are supporting payday lenders because payday companies helped last year with get-out-the-vote campaigns in black communities. I wonder if they know that Al Capone was one of Chicago’s foremost philanthropists.
The above are among the most glaring examples of what the wolves have in store for us. As the legislative session wears on, you will hear of even more scary stuff:
- A huge hole: Key legislators are already voicing support for digging a tunnel connecting I-75 and I-85 as “a solution” to Atlanta’s congestion. The tunnel would be the grandest and probably most expensive undertaking since Georgia’s interstate highway system was completed. Ever hear of Boston’s platinum-plated and corruption-ridden Big Dig project? This sounds like the southern-fried version of the same dish.
- Little kingdoms: Remember the private-cities idea that never jelled in last year’s legislative session? Developers could construct and govern their own communities with little outside oversight and plenty of secrecy.
This idea is already being tried in Florida. You’re all but certain to see such a plan trotted out again in Georgia before the wolves pack up and go home.
Don’t misunderstand us. The Georgia General Assembly also is considering several swell proposals designed to make us stand up and applaud - like funding a statue of Zell Miller, enacting stricter ethics legislation and adopting a comprehensive health-care plan.
Hold it. Our notes are messed up. A neighbor’s goat must have eaten the papers on ethics and health care. They have vanished.
Not to worry. Plans for Zell’s statue are still intact, along with a continuing ban on ordering wine over the Internet and similar far-reaching ideas for helping all Georgia sheep.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org