Our lawmakers will be back in Atlanta on Monday for a special session on redistricting, but before the fun begins let's catch up on a few developments in state politics.
Last week we received confirmation — again — that Georgia taxpayers are getting snookered by some of their elected representatives. This one involves "Joshua's Law," a bill passed several years ago that imposes a 5 percent surcharge on traffic fines.
The proceeds from this surcharge are supposed to fund high school driver education classes to help teenagers learn how to handle our roads and highways. A new report from state auditors, however, shows that less than 20 percent of the surcharges collected under "Joshua's Law" have actually been used for driver's education.
Over the past three fiscal years, not one penny of the $32 million collected for this purpose has been allocated for driver training. The money instead was used by legislators to plug holes in the budget.
This is not the only time this has happened. For more than a decade, you have been paying a fee of $1 per tire each time you buy a new tire. The money is supposed to go to a Solid Waste Trust Fund to help pay for the cleanup of discarded tires around the state.
In reality, most of the tire fee funds are allocated to pay for unrelated programs in the budget rather than being used to get rid of old tires. The discarded tires continue to pile up as a result.
In other news, Gov. Nathan Deal said the state is getting a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund some pilot programs that may help boost the percentage of college students who complete their studies and get a degree.
"It really doesn't do us a lot of good getting people into our universities and technical colleges if they don't get a degree," Deal said at a news conference announcing the grant. "We want to make sure our young people who enter those colleges are successful."
Deal did not mention that one of the main roadblocks to getting a college degree is the cost involved, especially for students from middle- and low-income families. The Board of Regents has had to jack up tuition and fees in recent years, in part because the General Assembly has cut a lot of money from the University System budget.
Earlier this year, legislation was passed that will substantially reduce the amount of money paid to students through HOPE scholarships, making it more difficult for many of them to stay in college and get that degree. The governor who supported and signed that bill into law was Nathan Deal.
Governor, there are a lot of folks who support your worthy goal and would love to see more students get those college degrees. Here's a helpful hint: If you'll stop cutting HOPE grants and reducing budget allocations for the University System, a college education might become a little more affordable. That would do more to increase college graduation rates than a puny grant from Bill and Melinda Gates.
Finally, the members of the state ethics commission announced they will implement a new plan to restructure and privatize a large portion of the agency's watchdog responsibilities. This is a response to cutbacks in the commission's budget that have resulted in the dismissal of most of the staff.
Under this new plan, many of the commission's functions will be farmed out to a private attorney who will be paid a maximum of $25,000 a year.
If you pay a low-ball fee of $50 per hour for a private attorney's services, that would amount to 500 hours of legal work. That's a little more than 12 weeks of work, if you figure the attorney will be billing for a 40-hour week.
In other words, the state would be able to enforce its campaign disclosure laws for about three months out of the year. Politicians would be able to ignore the law's requirements the rest of the year because the ethics commission probably wouldn't have the resources to investigate violations. In effect, the ethics commission would be useless.
Is there a way you can take a state agency outside and shoot it to put it out of its misery?
Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.