- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

March 29

Morning News, Savannah, Georgia, on the Palmetto Pipeline:

Before the government takes your property for public use, it must do at least two things.

First, it must follow the rules. They must be fair and clear.

Second, it must show that the taking of private property benefits the public.

To date, the state Department of Transportation has done neither in the case of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline. It has been asleep at the wheel. It must wake up and get answers to important questions.

Energy giant Kinder Morgan, which is seeking the right of eminent domain to build the 210-mile gasoline pipeline from inland to the Georgia coast, has argued that by increasing the supply of available gas in the Savannah area, prices at the pump will drop. Consumers will benefit, they argue.

At the same time, some critics of the project have questioned the degree to which the pipeline would benefit Georgia and whether the company’s real objective is serving the north Florida market in Jacksonville. That’s where ExxonMobil and Marathon have a large presence.

Big companies are supposed to fight for the interests of their owners and stockholders. That’s how a free market economy works. At the same time, however, private property owners in Georgia have rights. They shouldn’t be steamrolled. It’s the job of the state DOT to protect their interests before deciding whether to let a private company take their property.

What’s the savings?

Kinder Morgan applied on Feb. 13 to the DOT for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which would authorize it to condemn property. But it wasn’t until March 18, a month later, before DOT Deputy Commissioner Todd E. Long got around to writing the Houston-based energy giant for more information to support the case for the pipeline’s public benefit. And that was only after a huge public outcry, in this newspaper and elsewhere, that state officials weren’t doing their jobs.

Here’s a key question that DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and his staff must get Kinder Morgan to answer when the company contends the pipeline would save Georgia consumers money by shaving transportation costs:

How much?

It shouldn’t be rocket science. Indeed, much of the information about transporting gasoline through existing pipelines in this country is already available through public sources. Trucking companies can report to the penny how much it costs to transport a tank load from an upstate gasoline terminal to the Savannah market.

Knowledgeable sources peg the current cost figure - without the Palmetto Pipeline - at 12.7 cents per gallon. Would Kinder Morgan’s pipeline cut that cost? If so, by how much? Would it be a penny? A nickel? That’s the only way to evaluate the pipeline’s value to Georgians - and whether Kinder Morgan deserves the power of eminent domain.

Also, who would be shipping on this pipeline? How much of the product would be guaranteed for use in Georgia, or, would Georgia be a pass-through state so gas companies can serve more lucrative markets in Florida? The answers shouldn’t be corporate secrets if a private company wants power to condemn land in Georgia.

Meanwhile, the DOT is trying to clean up the huge mess it made regarding the vetting of Kinder Morgan’s proposal with the public.

Georgia law requires public hearings. Yet the DOT didn’t manage the five open houses that have been held so far on the pipeline project. Kinder Morgan did. That’s hardly a fair and impartial setting that builds confidence in the DOT’s ability to make the right decision. Instead, it looks like the DOT was a party to fake public hearings, which is embarrassing.

Since then, the DOT has said it will hold a true public hearing, with the agency running the show. That’s worth cheering.

Less so, however, is the DOT’s ability to track time.

The agency has 90 days from the date of the publication of public notice to rule on the pipeline project. That means mid- to late-May, although there’s some troubling confusion on when that deadline falls.

But the DOT must not be in a huge rush to make a decision. If it needs more time, it must seek an extension.

Under the current rules, if the DOT sits on its hands and does nothing, the permit is automatically approved after 90 days. That must not happen. Commissioner McMurry owes it to Georgians to make a decision, one way or the other. Anything less is a dereliction of duty.

Transferring the right of eminent domain isn’t like sharing the keys to a dump truck. It’s a tremendous power. The DOT must take its role seriously. It must wake up and do its job.




March 29

The Telegraph, Macon, Georgia, on Gov. Deal’s focus on education in Bibb County:

When Gov. Nathan Deal was running for re-election last year, he promised his focus would sit on education. While many may not like how he’s focused on education, he is keeping his promise. The General Assembly has given approval to his constitutional amendment proposal that, if approved by voters, will allow the state the authority to take over troubled schools (defined as scoring less than 60 on the College and Career Ready Performance Index for three consecutive years). There are 139 such schools in the state out of 2,184.

If the measure is approved in November 2016, the state will set up an “Opportunity School District” patterned after similar initiatives in Louisiana and Tennessee. The Opportunity School District will have its own superintendent answerable only to the governor. The state district would take over 20 schools per year with a maximum of 100. Bibb County has 10.07 percent of the state’s failing schools. While having 14 schools targeted by the governor is horrible, Atlanta Public Schools have 27 on the list and DeKalb County has 25. Those figures should give no comfort. Atlanta Public Schools have 101 facilities, and 26 percent are listed as failing. DeKalb has 133 schools, and 19 percent are failing. Thirty-four percent of Bibb’s schools are in the failing category.

Will the new Opportunity School District sweep into Macon? Time is on our side. The earliest such a district could get started is the 2017-18 school year. That gives new Superintendent Curtis Jones time to turn those schools around, but there is a more pressing issue staring the Bibb County school board in the face than the governor. AdvancED, the accrediting institution, gave the system 24 months to clean up its governance act. Time has just about run out. The board’s homework assignment, fixing the governance and leadership issues, is incomplete as of this writing.

While some on the board believe Bibb could become a national model for other districts that find themselves sideways with AdvancED, that’s hard to conceive. The new incomplete board handbook is a hand-me-down from DeKalb County that was borrowed from an Austin, Texas, district. We guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s nowhere near innovative. Other board members think AdvancED will give the district a pass because the work is in progress.

We don’t understand the distinction the board uses to differentiate between items that are “incomplete” and those that are a “work in progress.” Either way, the homework isn’t finished, and there’s not a dog around to blame for eating it.




March 31

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on Americans putting government on cruise control:

There’s a scene in the über-silly movie Anchorman 2 in which empty-headed news anchorman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is enjoying a chat with his news team in the back of a moving RV. When someone asks who’s driving, Burgundy replies matter-of-factly that the cruise control is on.

By the time someone explains that cruise control only regulates speed, and doesn’t steer the vehicle, it crashes.

The movie is a comedy, so no harm comes. But America is not a comedic film. So when its citizens put the country on cruise control and sit back and relax, it’s not funny in the least.

The point is, like a vehicle on cruise control, a self-governed nation can’t steer itself.

How can such a nation help but crash?

Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan Web site covering politics and elections, just tweeted a story in which, “In a recent special school board election in Louisiana, just 9 percent of registered voters turned out.”

We’ve got them beat. In a recent school tax election in Columbia County, less than 6 percent of voters turned out.

The paradox of American elections is that we turn out more in presidential elections - where our votes have less potential to swing the outcome - than in local elections. Local governments also generally have the most impact on our lives. And school elections generally have far more impact on our wallets than, say, city council elections. School districts spend far more than your local municipality.

Not to mention the fact that they have vast untold effects on our children.

Consider, too, what just occurred in Nigeria: More than 40 people were killed in presidential election-related violence over the weekend, as terror group Boko Haram attacked polling places. Yet, millions of votes were cast, sometimes at risk of injury or death.

And we can’t come out in the U.S. and vote completely unmolested. Shameful.

The United States has long been considered the leader of the free world. How much longer will we be able to make that claim?



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