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While it might seem like the new Atlanta Falcons stadium is a done deal, there's still one outstanding issue that needs to be addressed.
If the Georgia World Congress Center Authority is going to help build the 80,000-seat facility with approximately $300 million in revenues from Atlanta's hotel/motel tax, it needs to raise the limit on its credit card. And that takes legislative approval.
You'd think that state lawmakers would be happy to help out a billionaire considering past legislation (i.e., tax breaks on jet fuel for Delta, a sweetheart bill allowing Georgia Power to charge customers in advance to build a nuclear power plant). But considering how much attention the stadium issue has attracted and its potential to stoke populist anger, lawmakers from both parties are sure to fight the proposal — or at least indulge in a little political theater.
State Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, one of the proposed deal's most vocal critics, has said the state should fully fund duties such as education and health care before helping to finance a stadium. He'll most likely be the face of the opposition, at least in the House.
Some lawmakers, particularly those who represent the communities surrounding the Georgia Dome, might push for guarantees that those neighborhoods won't be burdened by the same parking and development woes that have come along with the Georgia Dome and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. That could mean requiring certain conditions in exchange for their approval of the project.
Anyone who thought that December's Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting would convince state lawmakers to call time-out on legislation allowing guns everywhere will be disappointed. (Well, everywhere except the Gold Dome, which is always exempted from the long list of places where you can carry a gun.) The mass killing, which has reignited the national debate about gun control, hasn't changed some GOP lawmakers' opinions about where Georgians can tote their shootin' irons.
A long-simmering debate about whether students and faculty should be allowed to carry guns on campus, one which was already expected to return before the Sandy Hook killings, will only grow more heated. Many college officials, including Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson, fiercely oppose the proposal, saying that alert students are better than armed students. One freshman lawmaker, state Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, has already introduced four bills that would OK guns on college campuses and churches and declared that "evil resides in the heart of the individual, not in material objects." His colleague, state Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, has proposed allowing school boards to give school administrators permission to carry weapons. Left up in the air is who will pay for the firearms training required by the bill — and whether the Georgia GOP wants the national headlines that come with easing gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting.
Some Georgia Republicans, including House Speaker Ralston, have kept mum about their plans involving firearms legislation, saying it'd be improper to comment while "children were still being buried." Others, such as House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, R-Buckhead, and state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, argue that access to mental health care and not the size of gun cartridges or the sales of firearms at gun shows should be reviewed.
Democrats will most likely push back against some of the proposals, which will surely grow in number as the session rolls along. One of the upper chamber's most liberal lawmakers, state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, has announced that he'd push for legislation banning assault weapons similar to the kind used by the shooter in Connecticut.
Every few years, lawmakers must renew the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund, a program overseen by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division that pays to help clean up brownfields and toxic sites. Since 2004, however, state lawmakers have redirected much of that cash to pad the state budget and fund pet projects. That's not because the state doesn't have any hazardous sites. According to a July report from the EPD, there are currently more than 550 pieces of property on the list. More than 50 of those properties are located in Fulton County. Lawmakers are just more comfortable letting foul pieces of property fester rather than raise revenue to fix the budget shortfalls. When the trust fund comes up for renewal this year, political observers predict that lobbyists for local governments and environmentalists will push for the program's funds only to be spent on their stated purpose. Like last year, state lawmakers will surely try and preserve the funding flexibility they enjoy.
In addition, some lawmakers are expected to raise hell over how much Georgia Power customers should be on the hook for cost overruns of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. In 2009, the General Assembly passed a bill allowing the utility to charge most ratepayers (big business's lobbyists carved out an exemption for their clients) in advance for the new reactors, the country's first in decades.
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