At the main Cobb County bus transfer station. AJC file
Photo: File
Photo: File

The Jolt: Rail district in Cobb County dropped from House transit bill

Yes, the Delta/NRA flap continues, but this is Crossover Day at the state Capitol, the day by which a measure needs to have received the approval of at least one chamber.

Otherwise, it’s dead – or, at least, mostly dead.

The biggest ticket item in today’s rush will be House Bill 930, carried by state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, which would make the state a financial player in a metro Atlanta transit system that presses into the ‘burbs.

That is, except for one particular county, which has been temporarily removed from the bill’s reach. Here’s where things stood on Monday, according to David Wickert, the AJC’s transportation writer:

A proposed transit expansion district in south Cobb County has grown substantially since it was unveiled last month and now encompasses about a third of the county. 

House Bill 930 would allow 13 metro Atlanta counties to impose sales taxes of up to 1 percent to expand mass transit, if voters approve them. Cobb County has long resisted mass transit, and MARTA in particular. But parts of south Cobb are eager for more transit, advocates say. 

HB 930 seeks to give both sides of the Cobb transit debate what they want. It would allow the county Board of Commissioners to create a special transit district in south Cobb. If voters approved it, the district could impose a sales tax for transit expansion – but the rest of the county would not pay the tax or receive additional transit service.

And so Tanner has decided to omit a Cobb County transit sales tax district from the bill altogether – at least, until the players come together with an agreement. One possible thought: The prospect of Gwinnett County jumping ahead on the rail issue could force some business interests in Cobb to become more involved. The Atlanta Braves, for instance.

(Cobb County, it has been pointed out to us, would still retain a seat at the governing table under the revised House bill. And it could still hold a countywide referendum to approve a rail line -- but given that the special district was a way to work around that, the chances of such a vote being held, and approved, are pretty slim in the near term.)

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But it’s been too long since you’ve read anything about the NRA flap that has Delta, much of metro Atlanta’s business community and Georgia Republicans tied up in knots.

Click here to read what Larry Gellerstedt, board chairman and CEO of Cousins Properties, said here about the impact the fight could have on the hunt for a new Amazon.com headquarters. A taste:

“We’re going to start punishing companies by stances that they take about their company values? These things get noticed. They get absolutely included in the dialogue for competing cities and states to use,” he said. “It’s naïve to think otherwise.”

“Whether you agree with the tax break or not, that’s not the issue. It’s the fact that now we’re going to punish them because they elected to change a policy relative to the NRA.”

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Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Republican candidate for governor, has received much of the attention for his comments that directly link new opposition to a jet fuel sales tax break, which would save Delta about $40 million annually, to the airline’s decision to sever ties with the NRA.

On “Fox & Friends” this morning, Cagle defended himself:

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In the New York Times, Cagle earned some rare praise from state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who is also a GOP candidate for secretary of state:

Referring to Mr. Cagle’s pushback, Mr. McKoon said, “I think he captured the sentiment and the feeling of a lot of Georgians,” who, he said, were frustrated “with Delta weighing in on an issue that has nothing to do with the topic of transportation, for sure.”

Former Atlanta mayor Sam Massell was less impressed:

“I don’t believe in blackmail, and I’m sorry to use such a dirty word, but that’s almost what it tastes like,” said Mr. Massell, a Democrat who served as mayor from 1970 to 1974. “That’s terrible. That’s not Georgia’s image. That’s backwoods stuff that doesn’t belong at all.”

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Democrat Jason Carter waged a fierce battle in 2014 against Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. But he tweeted that the incumbent governor “would never do what Casey Cagle did” in his threat to Delta. “He knows what it means to be governor and protect our state,” the former state senator wrote. 

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On Tuesday, despite Republican promises to kill the airline tax credit unless Delta repented, the Metro Atlanta Chamber pressed on. The business booster sent a letter to the Georgia Senate this week making the case that eliminating the jet fuel sales tax would lead to new direct flights and allow Delta to maintain existing ones.

Among the arguments: A daily flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles has a $2 million annual savings over a daily flight from Atlanta. And another: “Of the 21 states that have major hubs, Georgia has the fourth highest jet fuel tax.” (GB)

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The flap could give an opening to one specific newcomer. Sarah Riggs Amico is a trucking company executive and a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. She emailed us a few of her thoughts late last night:

“Mr. Cagle used his role as Georgia’s current lieutenant governor to openly threaten Delta Air Lines, the largest private employer in our state. Not for some egregious financial or criminal misdeeds. Not for neglecting to pay taxes or comply with Sarbanes-Oxley. Not for failing to safely operate an airline that transports more than 180 million customers annually.

“But for choosing to listen to customers, their management team and all Delta’s stakeholders rather than Casey Cagle, himself, who is listening to and acting on behalf of special interests who gave him campaign cash.

“The presiding officer of our State Senate played political “stick ‘em up” with a company that provides a paycheck, career and benefits to 33,000 Georgians. Over a donor. Imagine what companies thinking of moving jobs to Georgia must be thinking - Amazon included.”

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We have not found the video link, and perhaps don’t want to, but last night, CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” featured two faux Delta flight attendants, one with a raised middle finger, and this message aimed at Cagle:

“So, for attacking a private company because they listen to their clients, we’d simply like to say this, take your threat and place it in an upright and locked position.”

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Far be it for us to say the two events are in any way connected, but we would point out that on Monday, state Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said he would have nothing to do with a bill to remake DeKalb County’s CEO form of government as long as Michael Thurmond is at the helm.

On Tuesday, Miller announced his “bipartisan” re-election bid. Included in the press release were two endorsements from prominent Democrats. One was former DeKalb CEO Liane Levetan. The other was incumbent Michael Thurmond.

Millar’s Senatedistrict is one of the most competitive on the GOP map. His Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Sally Harrell, has raised about $100,000. 

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue was tapped by Senate leaders Tuesday to serve on a special bipartisan panel to overhaul the annual budget and government spending process. He’s the second Georgia Republican to join the House-Senate panel, created by the recent budget agreement. U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville was tapped for the committee last week.

Perdue, who has made a career of slamming Washington’s spendthrift ways and dysfunctional budget processvoted for a $300 billion budget agreement earlier this month that adds significantly to the federal debt, but made clear his support was rooted heavily in the creation of the bipartisan panel. 

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We found a couple interesting nuggets in Business Insider’s profile of U.S. Sen. Perdue. Apparently the Republican fields calls from President Donald Trump way after close of business:

Trump's desire to work with Perdue extends to all hours of the day. The president often calls the Georgia senator to strategize or spitball ideas about policy at strange times such as 5:30 in the morning, 12:30 at night, or even in the middle of the day if the president spots him on television. "This is a man who doesn't sleep much," Perdue said.

And then there’s Perdue’s now famous comparison of Trump to wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a “man of destiny” in publications like ours and the New York Times. Says Perdue in the Business Insider piece:

"And so he saw that New York Times article — he called me up and said, 'So you think I'm like Churchill?'" Perdue said. "He didn't think that was a compliment." 

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Talk to Georgia’s congressmen, state officials and backers of the Savannah port and the Trump administration’s latest funding request for the harbor deepening is a political travesty. But infrastructure funding, much like everything in Washington, is all in the eye of the beholder.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, thinks the feds are skimping on harbor deepening funding, and as McClatchy reports, are favoring the Savannah project over similar work at Charleston’s port:

Trump’s budget request “does not propose spending any new money for the South Carolina deepening project. On the other hand, the recent budget request does recommend awarding the harbor expansion project in Savannah, Ga., an additional $49 million since it fared better under the OMB’s budget/cost ratio analysis.

This discrepancy in particular has McMaster and others are crying foul. They say the administration should have considered South Carolina’s own investments when determining how much federal funding to award the project.” 

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