HB 475 lets the fox run the hen house

Just to give folks a quick perspective on some things that are concerning to some taxpayers in Washington County, GA where I live: my General Assembly Representative in the House, Mack Jackson, who was clearly raised to be polite and considerate, ushered a bill through the General Assembly after Plant Washington ( a proposed $2.1B+ coal fired power plant which lacks a pro forma estimate) was announced. The bill allows for a public facilities authority to issue bonds on projects without taxpayer input at the polls.

That means county bonds could be issued for Plant Washington, as well as other projects, putting all taxpayers on the hook should the bond-funded project go belly up. At that time, and today as well, the Industrial Development Authority is chaired by Hugh Tarbutton, and his nephew Ben Tarbutton III, serves as the Secretary. The Tarbuttons own considerable tracts of land near the Plant Washington site, with, unless things have changed recently, Hugh owning a large chunk of land where the plant would be built.

One might think the sale of thousands of acres would be motivation enough for supporting a coal plant located almost 30 miles from the river that Power4Georgians hopes has enough water in it to keep the plant operating (16M gallons of water a day is a lot).

But the 120 rail cars of coal required each day to fire the plant have to get there somehow. Fortunately Washington County has a shortline railroad which is privately held. The President of Sandersville Railroad is Hugh Tarbutton. Ben Tarbutton III is an assistant Vice-President. Other officers include Ben Tarbutton, Jr. as Vice-President,  and Charles Tarbutton, assistant Vice-President. (What doesn’t come in by rail will be trucked in. If you own a railroad why not diversify and own a trucking company too?)

Which brings us to the vote in the Georgia General Assembly on HB 475 on Thursday, which Mack Jackson supported (he also serves on the House Economic Development and Tourism  Committee where the bill originated although he is not listed as a co-sponsor). In a nutshell, HB 475 allows industrial development authorities to issue bonds to finance projects that involve private developers. Projects can include railroads used for cargo and freight transport.

And then it gets even scarier. HB 475 provides a development authority “unfettered authority” to define projects involving public and private entities, its decisions about projects “shall not be subject to review”, and the development authority shall have the authority to issue bonds. That seems like a lot of power rested in the hands of people who are not elected by the citizens at all, but rather appointed.

I wondered who in the transportation industry might have supported Mack’s campaigns. In 2008 Ben Tarbutton (no indication of Jr or III) contributed $500.00, Hugh was good for $300, Ben III weighed in at $250.00 and Charles added $250.00 to Mack’s campaign funds.  In 2010, during a three day period, Ben Jr, Ben III, and Hugh each contributed $250.00 to Jackson’s campaign coffers. During the session legislators can’t accept campaign donations (although they are free to be entertained by lobbyists) so who knows what the 2012 campaign reports will tell us.

HB 475 is so far from good legislation that late this afternoon Tom Crawford quotes one legislator saying, “they could be contributing to ‘the biggest scam going in the state of Georgia today.’ Crawford’s article quotes Representative Mark Hatfield (R-Waycross) saying, “It’s the biggest scam in the state of Georgia today. We know it’s going on all over the state.” (Hatfield is the attorney trying to have Obama removed from the Democratic primary ballot in Georgia because both of his parents weren’t natural born citizens. His argument is that the Framers of the Constitution really meant the President must be at a minimum second generation American).

Should I be afraid, or consoled, that Mark Hatfield thinks HB 475 is a bad piece of legislation? Politics makes for strange bedfellows. My goal is to avoid being run over by a train.

About Katherine Helms Cummings

During the day I am a social and environmental activist whose professional work has been in the nonprofit world for the last 12 years. Most nights and weekends I am an artisan making accessories with upcycled cashmere and woven textiles. My handmade items are available at The Sassy Gal http://thesassygal.org
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