Capitol Recap: More delays, added costs predicted for Georgia nuke project

A new report predicts more delays and cost overruns for the two nuclear reactors being built at Plant Vogtle.
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A new report predicts more delays and cost overruns for the two nuclear reactors being built at Plant Vogtle.

A roundup of news about politics and government in the Peach State

Testimony: Testing of Vogtle reactors shows poor results

Delays and costs overruns have for years plagued Georgia Power’s nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle, and now it’s facing the likelihood of more delays and cost overruns.

That’s according to testimony from independent state monitors and staff of Georgia’s Public Service Commission.

The first of Vogtle’s two new reactors likely won’t be in operation until at least the summer of 2022, according to one key monitor’s report, even though the company had until recently said it would be supplying electricity to Georgia homes and businesses by this November.

The second reactor, scheduled to be up and running by November 2022, now won’t be in operation until June 2023 at the earliest, monitor Donald Grace testified.

The report also said the project’s price tag is likely to jump an additional $2 billion or more.

PSC staffer Steven Roetger and another monitor, William Jacobs, reported “an unexpectedly poor showing” during a crucial round of testing.

Grace added that the reactor “is in a worse condition than past U.S. new construction nuclear plants were at this same stage of construction/testing.”

Vogtle is the only major new commercial nuclear project in the country. The first new reactor was originally scheduled to be running in the spring of 2016, followed by the second reactor a year later. Numerous problems have arisen during construction, causing costs to soar well past original projections.

Last month, company officials warned regulators that testing had uncovered problems with the first reactor that would delay its operation until the first three months of next year.

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said this past week that the company is still sticking to that timeline while indicating there was a chance the work could be done even sooner. He said the company still aims to finish the second reactor by November 2022.

Addressing the predicted $2 billion increase in price, Kraft wrote that the company has presented cost estimates “using its best judgment” while “continually emphasizing that risks remain on the project and it is possible that the cost estimate could increase in the future.”

Most electric cooperatives and city utilities in Georgia are financially tied to the project.

While the new reactors have yet to produce a watt of electricity, Georgia Power customers have for years paid to help finance costs and profits on the project for the state’s largest electric monopoly, an arrangement set up with the approval of the General Assembly and then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The report filed this past week states that by the time construction at Vogtle is completed, the average Georgia Power residential customer will have paid $854. That will only amount to a down payment, though: Customers are expected to pay more as construction costs are added to their bills.

“The most expensive construction project in Georgia history keeps getting more absurdly costly,” said Kurt Ebersbach, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents some organizations that oppose requiring customers to pay for Vogtle’s overruns. “And the only people benefiting from that sorry state of affairs are company shareholders.”

Strong tax collections this fiscal year mean Gov. Brian Kemp, who's running for reelection next year, should be able to fulfill a campaign promise from 2018 to give teachers raises of $5,000. So far, they have received $3,000. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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Strong tax collections this fiscal year mean Gov. Brian Kemp, who's running for reelection next year, should be able to fulfill a campaign promise from 2018 to give teachers raises of $5,000. So far, they have received $3,000. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Healthy tax collections during pandemic produce huge surplus

We’re in the final month of fiscal 2021, and the state piggy bank appears stuffed to the jowls.

The tax collection figures released this past week indicate that when the state finishes the fiscal year on June 30, it could have a surplus of more than $3 billion. That could be a record.

It’s not like anything Georgia officials imagined a year ago, when — as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the health and wealth of the state — the General Assembly cut spending by 10% out of fear that tax collections would plunge.

Instead, tax collections soared, with the new figures showing state revenue for the first 11 months of the fiscal year up by $3.59 billion over the same period last year.

It’s all good timing for Gov. Brian Kemp.

Last month he signed a new state budget for fiscal 2022, which begins July 1, that backfills 60% of the cuts made to education and most state agencies, provides targeted raises and borrows more than $1 billion for construction projects.

The surplus also gives Kemp a lot to work with as he pursues reelection next year. He should be able to pay off the final installment on the $5,000 pay raises he promised to the state’s teachers when he first ran in 2018. They’ve received $3,000, so far.

There also will likely be plenty left over to pay for the kind of tax cuts that GOP candidates traditionally like to run on.

That’s not even all the money the state has now or can expect soon. Georgia is also receiving $4.7 billion or so from the latest federal COVID-19 relief plan.

The state is still working on how it will spend all the money in that pot.

Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, joined a group of about 40 church leaders in protesting against Georgia's new election law and calling on Congress to pass federal legislation to increase protection of voting rights. “Too many have suffered for voting rights to let it hang in the balance like this,” she said. “We need corporate America to stand up, speak up and step in.” (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, joined a group of about 40 church leaders in protesting against Georgia's new election law and calling on Congress to pass federal legislation to increase protection of voting rights. “Too many have suffered for voting rights to let it hang in the balance like this,” she said. “We need corporate America to stand up, speak up and step in.” (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Church leaders rally against state voting law

A group of about 40 religious leaders continued to push against Georgia’s new election law and rallied this past week at the state Capitol in support of federal legislation they say will protect voting rights.

The church leaders, representing over 1,000 congregations, promised to keep up the pressure on companies that do not take a stand against Senate Bill 202, a new state law that limits ballot drop boxes, sets new ID requirements for absentee voting and overhauls elections operations.

They called on Congress to pass H.R. 4, legislation that would require the U.S. Justice Department to approve changes to state voting laws as it did before the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

The church leaders placed less emphasis on a more sweeping voting rights bill, H.R. 1, that faces a steeper climb to passage.

Defenders of SB 202 say it reduces the possibility of fraud and increases voter confidence in Georgia elections.

Opponents who spoke at the rally said Georgia is one of dozens of states where Republican legislators have introduced bills such as SB 202 that make it harder to vote following last year’s defeat of Donald Trump in the presidential race.

“Too many have suffered for voting rights to let it hang in the balance like this,” said Bernice King, CEO of the King Center. “We need corporate America to stand up, speak up and step in.”

Georgia Chamber, House GOP leaders grow apart

Cracks appeared in the relationship between state Republicans and the business world this past week at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual government affairs conference.

State House Speaker David Ralston and other top Republicans in his chamber skipped the gathering of legislative leaders and lobbyists.

Ralston & Co. apparently took offense to this statement about the state’s new voting law, Senate Bill 202, that the chamber put out in February:

“The Georgia Chamber of Commerce believes the right to vote is one of the most sacred rights of a U.S. Citizen. We also believe that free enterprise thrives when democracy is secured, and civility is embraced. By upholding the American ideal of free and fair elections, we demonstrate our commitment to protect the votes and rights of all Georgians and the growth of free enterprise. In 2020, Georgia voting laws were in line with 33 other states for absentee, early, and day-of voting.

“To that end, the Georgia Chamber supports accessible and secure voting while upholding election integrity and transparency. Simply put, we believe that it should be easy to vote, hard to commit fraud and that Georgians should have faith and confidence in secure, accessible, and fair elections.”

The speaker and his colleagues are said to be seeking an apology from the chamber. For now, the business lobby and House GOP leaders remain at odds.

Coca-Cola has been facing heat over its opposition to Georgia's new voting law, Senate Bill 202. A North Carolina county recently barred the company's vending machines from its facilities. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
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Coca-Cola has been facing heat over its opposition to Georgia's new voting law, Senate Bill 202. A North Carolina county recently barred the company's vending machines from its facilities. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Accused of ‘cancel culture,’ Coca-Cola gets canceled

With Coca-Cola’s opposition to Georgia’s new election law, Senate Bill 202, the maker of sweet and bubbly drinks has run into, in some cases, flat bitterness.

The latest case occurred in North Carolina’s Surry County.

County Commissioner Eddie Harris explained what happened in a note to Coca-Cola CEO James Quincy:

“Due to your company’s support of the out-of-control cancel culture and bigoted leftist mob, the Surry Board of County Commissioners voted at their May 17, 2021 meeting to remove all Coca Cola machines from Surry County Government facilities.”

But Surry’s beverage options might be limited. It depends on how seriously Harris and his colleagues takes these watered-down words from Coca-Cola’s rival, PepsiCo:

“At PepsiCo, we believe the right to vote is the cornerstone of American democracy — an inalienable right that countless citizens, particularly women and people of color have fought for. We call on elected officials across the country to come together with impacted stakeholders to support nonpartisan solutions that encourage greater participation in our democratic process.”

Latino share of electorate on the rise

Latino voting power is still small in Georgia but growing.

In some places, that growth has been quick, according to a report by, among others, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and the University of Georgia’s political science department.”

In 2020, there were 385,185 Latinos in the state who were registered to vote, or 4.1% of Georgia’s total electorate. That’s up 57.7% since 2016.

Their numbers were strongest in metro Atlanta.

The top counties for Latinos voters in 2020 were: Gwinnett, where Latino voters made up 12.3% of the electorate; Cobb, at 7.75%; and Fulton, at 4.16%.

In Hall County, they grew at a rate of 70.53% from 2016 to 2020. The 8,291 Latino voters there now make up 11% of the county’s electorate.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bordeaux, D-Suwanee, and U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, have the state’s largest Latino constituencies.

In the state Senate, the districts with the most Latino voters are represented by Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, and Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett.

In the state House, it’s Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, Dewey McClain, D-Lawrenceville, and Emory Dunahoo Jr., R-Gillsville.

Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has set up a qualified blind trust for his holdings, which contributed to a net worth of $2 million to $7.3 million. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has set up a qualified blind trust for his holdings, which contributed to a net worth of $2 million to $7.3 million. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Ossoff puts holdings in blind trust

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff fulfilled a campaign promise to move his liquid assets into a qualified blind trust.

The Democrat gave notice to the Senate that he had created the trust for his holdings, which contributed to a net worth somewhere between $2 million and $7.3 million as of late last year. At the time, his wealth was spread among various stocks, securities and mutual funds.

During the state’s U.S. Senate campaign, Ossoff challenged then-U.S. Sen. David Perdue to create such a trust.

Perdue and Georgia’s other U.S. senator at the time, Kelly Loeffler, both faced accusations that they made stock trades based on information they received in private Senate briefings about the coronavirus.

Both denied any wrongdoing and said all trading on their behalf was made by advisers acting independently. Still, both ultimately divested from trading in individual stocks.

Redistricting’s first steps will be virtual

Georgia’s redistricting process will get underway Tuesday when the state House and Senate committees on reapportionment jointly hold a virtual town hall from 5 to 7 p.m.

It’s just a guess when the task will be completed — still unscheduled is the special session when the General Assembly will do the heavy lifting on redistricting.

It promises to be a puzzle for the majority Republicans in the Legislature, as they deal with the shrinking populations in the rural areas where they’re strongest, balanced against the growing urban areas that are more supportive of Democrats.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Republican State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black has entered the race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. Other Republicans who have announced they are running are Kelvin King and Latham Saddler.

— John Eaves, the former chairman of the Fulton County Commission, has announced he is running for secretary of state. Eaves joins state Rep. Bee Nguyen of Atlanta, as the second Democrat to challenge Republican Brad Raffensperger. Also running are three other Republicans, former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and T.J. Hudson, who earlier this year resigned as Treutlen County’s probate judge to mount a campaign.

— Mike Collins, a son of former U.S. Rep. Mac Collins who narrowly lost to Jody Hice in the 2014 GOP runoff in the 10th Congressional District, is running again for the seat now that Hice is vacating it to run for secretary of state. It’s turning into a a crowded GOP race that includes state Rep. Timothy Barr of Lawrenceville, former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, former Georgia Revenue Commissioner David Curry and wealthy demolition man Matt Richards.

State Sen. Bruce Thompson of White formally announced that he is running for labor commissioner, a post now held by fellow Republican Mark Butler. The field of Democrats running for the post also grew, with Nicole Horn entering the race. She’s a former reporter for WMAZ-TV in Macon who also started a workforce development business and established the 5th Congressional District chapter of Indivisible, a left-leaning organization. Also running on the Democratic side are state Rep. William Boddie of East Point and state Sen. Lester Jackson of Savannah.

— Wendy Davis, a city councilwoman in Rome and a member of the Democratic National Committee, launched her bid against Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in northwest Georgia’s 14th Congressional District. Three other Democrats have filed paperwork to run against Greene.