Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Spending Too Much on War and Not Spending Enough on America’s Workers

July 31, 2010


There are a couple of op-eds in the New York Times that need to be read by a lot of people.  One is on the incomprehensible way the U.S. is spending way too much on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and spending it unwisely.  For instance, we are spending more on keeping one soldier in Afghanistan for a year than it would have cost to build 20 schools.  Check out 1 Soldier or 20 Schools.

The other op-ed deals with the way that many corporations are maximizing profits by cutting work forces way more than is necessary to adjust for the recession, and sitting on their piles of cash instead of getting Americans back to work.  Check out A Sin and a Shame.


Education Cuts in 1932 and Now

June 7, 2010

While reading FDR, Jean Edward Smith’s remarkable biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I came across a statistic that made me reflect on the comparisons between 1932 and now.  Painting the picture of the critical state the nation was in when Roosevelt won in a landslide over Herbert Hoover,  there is a line that says “Georgia closed more than one thousand schools with a combined enrollment of 170,000.”

I don’t know how many schools have been closed in the state because of the current recession, but I heard that the Muscogee County School District, which is now facing an $18  million cut of state funds , has lost $90 million in state funds over the last 8 years, the 8 years of the Governor Sonny Perdue administration.

I think we are going to hear the word “education” quite a bit between now and the General Election in November.  Get ready for major spinning.

Columbus Charitable Giving is Down, but Not as Much as Expected

May 30, 2010

Commenting on the effects of the current recession , a stockbroker friend of mine said that stocks losing their value causes philanthropic giving to lessen dramatically.   “When it takes giving twice as many shares this year to make the same monetary contribution that you made last year, there is a good chance the giver is not going to want to do that.” 

The big problem is that with unemployment hitting a disastrous ten percent, the need for assistance becomes greater at a time when giving drops dramatically.

Fortunately, though, the situation in the Columbus area, while problematic, is not as bad as it could be.  Last year, after a meeting with 100 CEOs about what their companies could be expected to contribute in this down economy,  United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley lowered its goal from the previous year by $400 thousand.   Scott Ferguson, president and CEO of UWCV told me that a lot of people stepped up to the plate and increased their giving to help make up the difference, and that generosity has caused the goal of $6.45 million goal to be exceeded by $200 thousand.  It will be interesting to see what the 100 CEOs have to say this year when that meeting is held.


While UWCV depends mainly on corporate giving, which relies on the contributions of individual employees,  individual members of the Tocqueville Society increased their contributions. The Tocqueville Society is made up of people who contribute $10 thousand or more.  The UWCV was recognized nationally for having the highest percentage of members, in an area of 300,000 to 500,000 people, increasing their giving. 

It’s thanks to Columbus area philanthropists who joined in partnership with the city government that we have the world-class RiverCenter with its three state-of-the-art theaters,  and the River Walk, and the Columbus Civic Center.   It’s thanks to philanthropists that the Springer Opera House,  Georgia’s State Theater, a historic gem,  was beautifully restored and renovated.  These things have made our city quite attractive. 

Now, we have to make sure that our citizens can afford to go to those theaters.  With the build up at Fort Benning,  that situation should be improving soon.

The Battle over the Defense Budget

May 24, 2010

Why in the world, when our country is suffering economic chaos with out-of-control deficit spending and whopping increases in the national debt, are we spending more on defense than all of the rest of the world’s nations combined?  We spend 5 times more than China, and ten times more than Russia. 

Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense

Well, we’ve been fighting two wars for more than 8 years. And even though the 2011 defense budget comes in at $549 billion, Congress is on the verge of adding another $159 billion for those wars.  You’d think $549 billion would be enough. And maybe it would if, for one thing,  Congress would stop funding things the defense department doesn’t really need, things that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is not even asking for.  However, those things are being asked for by defense contractors who pour a lot of money into campaign coffers. 

Rep. Alan Grayson, (D) Florida, Dist 8

Florida Rep. Alan Grayson has introduced a bill to kill the $159 billion request and use that money to end income taxes on the first $35 thousand for individuals and $70 thousand for couples, and use the rest, $15 billion, to reduce the deficit.  In a news release Friday he said, “What George Orwell wrote about in 1984 has come true. What Eisenhower warned us about concerning the ‘military-industrial complex’ has come true. War is a permanent feature of our societal landscape, so much so that no one notices it anymore.

“But we’re going to change this. Today, we’re introducing a bill called ‘The War Is Making You Poor Act’. The purpose of this bill is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars.”

Guess we all need to pay attention to what Congress does this week. If fact, we ought to pay attention to what it does every week.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Defends His Health Care Reform Vote to Muscogee Democrats

April 4, 2010

Rep. Sanford Bishop addressing Muscogee County Democrats

For 17 years, reelections haven’t been much of a problem for Rep. Sanford Bishop, up until now.  He keeps his 2nd Congressional District farmers content by looking out for their interests in Washington.  He said, “I’m the peanut Congressman.” He looks out for the district’s military facilities, not only working to get billions for Fort Benning, but has been a big supporter and gotten millions in funding for the National Infantry Museum.  Still, some believe he has an uphill struggle to stay in office because he had the courage to vote for President Obama’s health care reform bill. The Tea Party folks are  after him now.

Making no apologies for his vote, and even criticizing Governor Perdue for wanting to repeal the bill, saying he can’t understand why the governor doesn’t want health care for all Georgians,  he believes that when people really understand what the reform measure will accomplish they will be for it.  People come up to him after apperances at civic clubs and tell him that once he explained what the bill will do it makes sense to them. He said they have been bombarded with so much deliberate misinformation and downright lies that they really don’t know how beneficial the reform will be.  He is working to help folks understand it.  He said he counters Tea Party misinformation at town hall meetings by simply flashing the law itself on a screen and explaining how it differs from what critics claim.

He got a standing ovation.

GA Attorney General Candidate Still Has to Deal with State Budget Crisis

March 8, 2010


Rep. Rob Teilhet, Cobb County, GA, Democratic candidate for Attorney General

I was interested in what Cobb County Rep. Rob Teilhet had to say about his bid to become Georgia’s next attorney general, but I was just as interested to what he said to me before his talk to Muscogee County Democrats, because we discussed the financial disaster facing public education, Medicaid, and other state services.

These are issues he still must deal with because he still represents the people of his area of Cobb County, and, actually, he and all legislators represent all Georgians.  The problem, he says, is that the proposed budget is about $20 billion dollars,  about $2 billion more than revenues will provide, so something has to give.

The legislature can cut the education budget even more, including $300 million for higher education, which will mean teacher layoffs,  fewer courses being offered, and larger class sizes for the teachers that remain. There is talk that the elementary and high school year will be shortened from 170 to 160 days.

Rep. Teilhet tells me that the legislature is considering cutting state Medicaid payments by 17  percent.  He says if that happens, some hospitals will probably close, especially the smaller ones in rural areas.

It appears that, even though it’s a hard thing to do, taxes are going to have to be raised, I suggested.  He agreed, pointing out that a bed tax for hospitals could keep the Medicaid program at its current level. That’s what Governor Perdue is suggesting. A $1 cigarette tax is something that Georgians appear to be willing to support he said.  That would raise $400 million, enough to prevent destroying higher education.

Now, back to the reason he came to Columbus, to get local Democrats to support his bid for the attorney general job.  He promises to be tough on crime –  it seems candidates for attorney general always promise that – and tough on those who prey on the state’s consumers.  He also wants a stronger ethics law. I pointed out that’s a legislative matter. He said that the attorney general can also recommend legislation  to the General Assembly.  He also said that, as attorney general, he would prosecute violators of that law.

Why Did President Obama Pick Savannah?

February 27, 2010


I don’t know why President Obama picked Savannah for his “Main Street” visit to Georgia Tuesday, but he will certainly be in probably Georgia’s most charming city.  I was there recently and really enjoyed the visit.  It’s a beautiful place, and, as you know, the most historic city in Georgia.  It’s where Georgia started in 1733. 

River Street in downtown Savannah, Georgia

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution story by Bill  Torpy and    Jeremy Redmon,  the White House will only say that ” its residents ‘have been hit hard and know well the challenges that Americans are facing right now’ — a criteria that could fit Anytown, USA.”  

The president will be conducting a town hall type meeting at Savannah Technical College.  The Savannah Morning News reports that only invited guest will be in attendance because the school’s auditorium will only seat 200 people.  After he finishes there, he is scheduled to make some more stops during his four hour visit,  but the White House won’t say where they will be. 

Port of Savannah on the Savannah River. It exports more than it imports.

According to the AJC  story, Robert Eisinger, dean of liberal arts at the Savannah College of Arts and Design,  says, ” Savannah provides racial, ideological and geographical diversity,” he said, and “It’s a president’s job to go out and listen. There’s an export story he can tell here, a manufacturing story and an education story.”  He pointed out the photographic settings, which include “historic architecture, an expansive river view,  and a busy port that all can help bring home whatever message Obama wants to make.”

There are some high profile Republicans in the Savannah area, such as Congressman Jack Kingston who is opposed to the $787 billion stimulus program – though Georgia Republican Governor Perdue’s administration had no problem in accepting Georgia’s share of the money- but,  the president will not be in hostile territory.  He pulled 57 percent of the vote in Chatham County.

What the National Debt and Deficit are Costing You

February 8, 2010

 Back when I was working in TV news, being cognizant of the importance that local newscasts should provide local news,  when we decided to use a national story, we would always try to “localize” it.  With that in mind, when I decided that I was beginning to feel so concerned about the national budget mess we are in right now that I wanted to do a blog post on it, I tried to figure out how to “localize” it. 

When we say the national debt is now more than $12 trillion,  that’s the big picture.  Maybe to bring it home to each of us, our share is more than $40 thousand each, according to the U.S. National Debt Clock.

 A large share of that debt is generated by defense spending.  That hits home. The Columbus area economy relies heavily on Fort Benning which pumps millions into the stores,  real estate businesses,  and just about everything else.  The annual payroll at Fort Benning is $1.1 billion.  The monthly payroll is $87 million.  Sure, we have to pay our part of the taxes that go into the Defense Department treasury, but we probably get a lot more back than we pay.  The point is that the defense budget directly impacts on us big time. 

Nationally, the proposed defense budget for Fiscal Year 2011 is $708.2 billion.  The base budget, which does not include overseas “contingency operations,” which I suppose means Afghanistan and Iraq, is $548.9 billion, which is $18 billion more than the 2010 budget.

 According to the National Priorities Project Cost of War  Counters, so far, since 2001,  the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars  have cost America a little more than a trillion dollars.  Bringing  that to the local level, folks in Georgia have paid more than $27.6 billion.  The counters don’t list Columbus, so I’ll have to go to a city of about the same size, Augusta, where the cost of the wars has been more than $512 million

Can we afford that?  That opens up a huge can of worms, but just on the fiscal basis,  let’s just ask, can we pay for itNot with our own money.  Incredibly, we lowered taxes when we went to war 8 years ago.  You spend more than you take in, you have to borrow, which leads us to our next post on the fiscal crisis we face. Stay tuned

An Environmentally Friendly Georgia Sales Tax Holiday

September 30, 2009

 Georgia state Rep. Richard Smith sent this:

Once again, you will have the opportunity to buy energy-saving and water efficient products without sales taxes during the ‘2009 Energy Star and WaterSense Sales Tax Holiday’. The sales tax holiday begins at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, October 1, and runs through midnight Sunday, October 4.

Rep. Richard Smith (Photo, courtesy: Georgia House of Reprsentatives)

Rep. Richard Smith, Georgia House District 131(Photo, courtesy: Georgia House of Representatives)

You will not pay state or local sales taxes on the purchase of Energy Star-qualified or WaterSense-labeled products that cost $1500 or less per item.

ENERGY STAR:  ENERGY STAR designated products meet strict energy efficiency criteria set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Qualified ENERGY STAR appliances and products eligible for the sales tax exemption include dishwashers, clothes washers, air conditioners, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dehumidifiers, programmable thermostats, refrigerators, doors, windows and skylights.

WaterSense:  According to the EPA, if just one out of every four households in Georgia retrofits their bathrooms with WaterSense fixtures, it could save nearly 10 billion gallons of water per year. WATERSENSE –labeled products eligible for sales tax exemption include bathroom sink faucets or aerators and high-efficiency toilets.

Rails to Trails Progress Report

September 7, 2009

It seemed like a good transportation move when Columbus voters approved a sales tax for capital improvements that included a railroad trolley from downtown Columbus to Columbus State University. Rail is the most energy efficient way to transport masses of people. However, instead of following through with the trolley idea, city leaders decided to dig up the old railroad tracks the trolley would have used. They decided that not enough folks would ride the trolley to make it financially feasible. Maybe they were right. Maybe.

However, replacing those tracks with asphalt for a Rails to Trails project could be considered energy efficient, too. Folks riding bikes and walking the trail will not be burning fossil fuel, and will be improving their health.

Rails to Trails biking and walking trail under construction, Columbus, GA

Rails to Trails biking and walking trail under construction, Columbus, GA

Columbus City Planner Rick Jones tells me that the first phase of the Rails to Trails program, an asphalt trail from downtown Columbus to Columbus State, is about a third of the way through. When you look at the asphalt that has been laid from 14th Street in downtown Columbus almost to Hardaway High School, you would think it’s more than a third finished. However, other things have to be done. 

One of them is a rest station which is under construction near Hannan Elementary School. It will feature a concession stand, rest rooms and a parking lot. One of the construction workers told me that, at the rate construction of the rest area is going,  the building should be finished in about a month.

Rails to Trails rest stop under construction, Columbus, GA

Rails to Trails rest stop under construction, Columbus, GA

The second phase, from Columbus State to Cooper Creek, Jones tells me, will get started in about a month. He says the Rails to Trails project should be completed in   about a year.