The Georgia General Assembly begins a new session with the New Year, perhaps with a hangover from last session. Georgia is noted for its short legislative sessions – 40 days. Critiques of that vary from “How could anything serious be accomplished in just 40 days?” to “How much can they screw up in just 40 days?”

The lawmakers, of course, get around the 40-day restriction. The most comical, for those who remember, was House Speaker Tom Murphy climbing a stepladder on the final days of sessions to turn back the hands of the chamber clock and keep it from reaching midnight. Today, we don’t have a sense of humor – or a figure under the Gold Dome as charismatic and commanding as Murphy – so Murphy would be sued and legislation would be tied up in courts for years, and there’d be a new governor by the time a bill was deemed fit to be signed into law. The new guy might not be so inclined, if he had a different agenda. Makes you long for the good ol’ days, however pitched they were.

The more tedious delaying method is for the General Assembly to go into recess and negotiate off the clock the nuances of legislation, adding or subtracting language to get as many lawmakers on board as possible. “Recess” doesn’t count against the 40 days, which stretch over three months.

The only thing the lawmakers are required, under the state constitution, to accomplish is to pass a balanced budget each session, with lobbyists and constituents and a gubernatorial hit staff giving them a double-dog dare stare.  

Sure to get outsized attention in this session is increasing the state sales tax on gasoline to pay for highway improvements. It is a classic political conundrum: People howl about highway infrastructure, or existing road conditions; then howl when they’re asked to pay for what they want. The fact is the existing pot for roadwork isn’t sufficient for the need unless a rocket ship from Venus lands and creates 3 million jobs and the trained workforce to fill them. So things get very local and telescopic: If there’s enough money for my daily needs, I could care less if South Georgia dries up and blows away – except for when I need to get to Jacksonville once a year for the Georgia-Florida game. 

I could care less if South Georgia dries up and blows away – except for when I need to get to Jacksonville once a year for the Georgia-Florida game.

In a more common-sense manner, the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce shared its 2015 priorities in a six-page list with area lawmakers last month. 

Among the highlights, the chamber calls for:

  • Completion of a direct connector of US 411 to I-75;
  • Increased funding for Georgia’s Quickstart – an asset for supporting new and expanding business;
  • Legislation to restore full formula funding for pre-K through 12th grade;
  • Granting local governments the ability to collect portions of local option sales taxes;
  • Increased funding for Georgia Northwestern Technical College and Georgia Highlands College;
  • Continued “work-based learning” legislation to promote and encourage student internships;
  • Continued funding for the Richard B. Russell (Towers Field) Regional Airport;
  • Continued special support for Georgia School for the Deaf;
  • Continued funding of the HOPE Scholarship.  

Biz Bits

Sometimes everyday investors get nervous toward the end of the year. Any bit of bad news can make them jittery over what the new year will bring – another recession, perhaps? You can count on worry over turning the calendar even before winter arrives.

In a stretch last fall, the Standard & Poor’s index dropped more than 7%. Social media posts, unlike mainstream media, included survivalist-like warnings. The S&P 500 is now at a record high. Stocks in the index are trading at 17 times earnings. The fear has dissipated. The guys who don’t traffic in panic, mutual fund managers, say 2015 will be a good year for stocks, not withstanding the routine short dips.

Big-time (read: filthy rich) college athletic programs have bantered about the idea of paying student-athletes for a couple of decades. The notion now has more support than ever, for a plethora of reasons, a new one being that college football has just introduced a four-team postseason playoff, and there is already a clamor to make it eight teams (won’t happen soon; too many contractual restraints). Yet there will still be more than two dozen bowl games for good teams that don’t make the playoffs.

Can anyone still question that college football is anything less than one big business with a mindset toward expansion? But the financial aspect of the game is tilted toward the big boys, the five so-called power conferences, including the SEC and the ACC, who have the autonomy to make their own rules, especially financially, separating them from the rest of the pack. In the face of this, The University of Alabama-Birmingham has dropped football. (Memo to Auburn fans: No amount of wishing will make the other shoe drop in Tuscaloosa.) UAB students and alumni staged protest rallies and letter-writing campaigns, and there have been cries for the resignation of President Ray Watts, who had to be assigned police protection.

This is what it has come to: In order to remain relevant in college football, UAB was going to have to step up its financial commitment to a game, played only on a few fall afternoons, probably at the expense of other sports, academics and overall student enrichment. UAB had no dream to be an Appalachian State, an FBS school that surprised the University of Michigan and North America eight years ago, or any other giant-slaying David. It wanted to field a team that mattered somewhat versus its level of opposition. And that is now too expensive, what with coaches’ salaries, athletic facilities and recruiting.

UAB finished last season 6-6 and qualified for a bowl game. But the athletic department reported a $17.5 million deficit for the fiscal year.

Other schools like UAB will face the same hard choices soon.

John D. Rockefeller is turning in his grave. The heirs of America’s first billionaire have downsized, relinquishing the last space they held in Rockefeller Center, known fondly in New York as 30 Rock.

Finally, this: A toast I like to give, suitable for various occasions: 

Here’s to the duck that swum the lake, and never lost a feather, this time, another year may we all be together.

Happy New Year.

J. Bryant Steele was first published when he was 14 and has made a living stringing words together for 40 years. But the main reason he writes is to avoid housework. He has won 50 or so writing awards. He is a graduate of the Grady School of Journalism (The University of Georgia) and of Education for Ministry (The University of the South). He also publishes poetry and fiction. He is the proud father of two magnificent adult children. He is also very opinionated.