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Shipp: State airplanes fueled by red ink

POSTED: September 24, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Our governor should consider taking a page from Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's playbook: sell a state airplane or two and try to hold down flying. With aviation fuel selling at nearly $6 a gallon, state officials might be surprised at the savings a grounding order would bring.

Instead, in Georgia officialdom, it's fly, fly, fly. And nothing's too good for the upkeep of the state's fleet of planes and helicopters. The state is spending $600,000 on a state-of-the-art hangar at Charlie Brown Airport.

If you ask someone at DOT why Georgia is spending so much on housing its planes, you'll get this answer: "The state got a great deal on the hangar. It was a deal we couldn't say no to."

Deal, shmeal! Anybody can get a great real estate deal these days. We've been told repeatedly that Georgia is in a budget crisis. The Peach State couldn't even afford to keep open the Georgia War Veterans Home in Milledgeville. So 81 old soldiers and sailors will have to find other quarters.

Evicting the vets for budget reasons has not deterred Gov. Sonny Perdue's flying habits. He recently took time out to learn to fly a helicopter and acquire a helicopter flying license.

It's not clear who was keeping the store while Sonny was intent on becoming Sky King.

He also recently flew a helicopter to Gainesville to spread the word that local governments are wasting money.

That alleged waste, by the way, is Gov. Perdue's explanation for taking away tax relief for homeowners.
The state budget is flashing red and alarm bells went off months ago. The clouds of recession were evident long before the storm began. In the first two months of the new fiscal year (July and August), state revenue dipped almost 7 percent under last year's collections.

As you may know, the present state budget is predicated on an astonishing 6 percent growth in revenue, as estimated by the governor's office, in a year when economic forecasts are dim at best.

That means the $20 billion state budget has a $2.5 billion to $3 billion hole in it, which explains why public schools and state universities are cutting their services to the bone.

But you know something, folks? Nobody seems to care.
The once-robust investigative press is plagued by its own financial problems and has mostly called off the dogs.

Public watchdog Georgia Common Cause is taking a long rest. The Common Cause director has confessed to giving campaign money to Gov. Perdue. The state Ethics Commission is a joke, and the inspector general has turned into the invisible woman.

Over at Attorney General Thurbert Baker's office, the "gone to lunch" sign has been engraved in the door.
Pending for nearly two years is a complaint against Jim Lientz, the governor's top assistant, alleging that Lientz failed to disclose interests in more than 50 businesses. He faces a fine of $15,000 or more. It is a disservice to Lientz and the public to fail to dispose of the allegations.

Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter is assigned to the case but can't seem to find time to work on it. He's covered up defending the gigantic case against Georgia's education funding mess.

On the national scene, we have two presidential candidates running on a theme of change in Washington. Wonder if we'll ever have a candidate for governor dare to run on a "change-Georgia" platform. Probably not as long as the state stays out of receivership.

Bill Shipp's column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can contact him at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30160; Web site.



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