- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

Jan. 27

The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle on theft from the government is hardly a victimless crime:

People who bilk the government are flush with excuses to explain their actions.

Nobody is going to miss anything.

It’s not like anybody got hurt.

Who cares? It’s free money, right?

Wrong. Sadly, all those rationalizations help comprise the attitude that too many Americans have when it comes to looting the public sector. Perhaps it’s an indication of how civically stunted society has become - that people who steal from the “government” don’t realize they steal from us all. Where do they think government comes from?

How profoundly disappointing if allegations are true that two moving companies overbilled the Department of Defense on services to relocate soldiers, some of whom were deployed from Fort Gordon.

The companies, Covan World-Wide Moving Inc. and Coleman American Moving Services Inc., deny the allegations brought forth in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Columbia. The companies and their affiliates have billed the government $723 million for moving costs since 2009.

If any overcharges are deemed fraudulent, as opposed to a mistake or negligence, justice hopefully would be swift and severe, such as the punishments levied last week against members of a local fraud ring that used their jobs at Georgia Regents Medical Center and East Central Regional Hospital to steal patient identities and file more than $346,000 in bogus income tax returns during a four-year period.

Another high-profile tax fraud case originating in Augusta, this one involving a tax-preparation business filing false returns to take advantage of tax credits for the poor, ended in prison terms for the 54-year-old company owner and three accomplices last year.

Unlike the more recent tax fraud case, which relied on identity theft, these perpetrators exploited the earned income tax credit, or EITC, which is arguably the most vulnerable to “improper claims” (IRS parlance for “fraud”).

The EITC acts as an anti-poverty program by wiping out the federal income-tax liability for low-income working families and providing cash payments of up to several thousand dollars. A 2013 Treasury Department report estimates the credit costs the government more than $10 billion a year in improper claims.

There’s no such thing as “free money” from the government. Defrauding the government simply is stealing from your neighbor using bureaucrats as a conduit. And those who get caught deserve punishment.




Jan. 22

The Telegraph, Macon, Ga., on two inescapable tasks guaranteed to create turmoil:

There are a couple of necessary tasks most of the 180 school boards in Georgia will — over time — have to face. Both tasks are difficult. One task is finding a superintendent. The process is rigorous and fraught with land mines. The other is redistricting, closing or merging schools. Of the two tasks, the latter is the most immediately volatile.

As we know in Bibb and Houston counties, choosing a superintendent that is not the right fit for the community takes a while for the fuse to burn, but even the hint that a school will be closed (Bibb County) or district lines changed (Houston County) and the customers of the impacted schools come out in protest.

Such was the case when the facilities plan in Bibb County — not yet approved by the school board — was contemplated. Parents and children singing the praises of Riley Elementary came out in force. Same thing occurred in Houston County when the school system looked, as it must, to rezone some of its schools.

There are new buildings coming online in Houston. Some 500 to 600 students for the new Langston Road Elementary will come from five other schools in Perry. The Houston system will also open the renovated Linwood Elementary, renamed Pearl Stephens Elementary. Along with the move there will be grade realignment with grades third through fifth headed for Pearl Stephens and pre-K through second grade attending C.B. Watson Primary.

Riley parents, for now, are happy. Their school has been taken off the chopping block. Bernd Elementary is next up to try the save-my-school tactic. Parents of both systems will not know the outcome of plans until next month, but one thing is certain: Some schools in Bibb County have to close and in Houston, there are new buildings that must be populated. And there is another certainty: In both systems there will be disappointed parents and students. There is not a process of change that can please everyone.

At least Houston County’s superintendent, Robin Hines, is staying put, but Bibb County has to look for its next superintendent while figuring out the best mix and use for facilities and the budgets they create.




Jan. 26

Savannah (Ga.) Morning News on unemployment benefits:

The concept is simple:

Unemployment benefits are meant for workers who lost jobs through no fault of their own and are actively looking for other employment. They’re not designed for seasonal workers who already have jobs, but need money to tide themselves over when they’re not working.

That’s a discrepancy that Georgia lawmakers hope to fix, beginning today.

A House committee is scheduled to vote on legislation that would prevent the private employees of school contractors from collecting unemployment benefits during Christmas and summer holidays. This matter surfaced in Savannah and elsewhere in Georgia last year, when the Georgia Department of Labor told about 64,000 bus drivers, custodians, traffic guards and cafeteria workers that they couldn’t receive unemployment benefits during the summer holidays.

These workers erupted. The U.S. Labor Department later directed the state to pay benefits, saying the state was incorrectly interpreting Georgia law related to school workers.

So what must happen now is simple: State legislators must fix the law.

House Bill 714 is sponsored by the chairman of the House Industry and Labor Committee that is considering it, Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming. He happens to be the founder of a temporary-staffing agency. So he knows how some private employers play the game, which is unfair to Georgia employers.

The bill seeks to restore the state Department of Labor practice before the federal government ruled that, in the absence of a specific legal restriction, the state must pay unemployment benefits to private workers idled by school holidays. Teachers and other staffers working directly for school districts aren’t affected. Their pay is based on a year-round work schedule, even though they don’t work summers or when school isn’t in session.

Instead, the targets are private companies that contract with school systems. They don’t pay their workers based on 12 months of work and don’t spread out paychecks through the year. Instead, these firms consider their workers off the job when school isn’t in session - and hence unemployed and eligible for state benefits until school begins again in the fall.

These workers do honest, important and necessary work. It’s wrong to knowingly underpay them, with the knowledge that other Georgia employers will be making up the difference.

A day’s work should mean a day’s pay. Not a paid day off at someone else’s expense.



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