Georgia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Gainesville Times on the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle:
For years, Georgia Power customers, nuclear power opponents and some politicians have been arguing that construction of the two new reactors at the Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro is the state’s all-time white elephant.
The project, the nation’s only nuclear plant construction still ongoing, is already a year overdue, nowhere near finished and $1 billion over budget. Final cost is expected to reach near $27 billion, more than twice the original $13 billion price tag. Last year’s bankruptcy filing of the project’s lead contractor, Westinghouse, set the deadline back even further.
Yet late last year, the Georgia Public Service Commission fended off pressure from ratepayers and anti-nuclear advocates and voted to back Georgia Power’s request to continue the work.
But now, after years of seemingly exhaustive support for an enterprise with no limits, some are finally fed up enough to say no.
The most recent and crucial rebellion came recently from one of the project’s partner utilities. Oglethorpe Power threatened to pull out of the reactor construction if some effort wasn’t made to ease its financial commitment. Oglethorpe is one of three smaller electric membership corporations that serve as junior partners in the project along with Georgia Power and its parent, the Southern Company.
But though Georgia Power is a for-profit with shareholders to help shoulder the costs, smaller EMCs don’t have that flexibility and must make their customers bear the funding burden.
Oglethorpe balked at reaffirming its partnership and argued its case to lawmakers for relief. They seemed to find sympathetic ears, with 20 legislators, including Hall County Sen. Butch Miller and other influential leaders, urging the partners to consider a cap on the project’s costs before more losses are passed on to consumers.
The new deal doesn’t exactly do that, but it does to ensure that further cost overruns will be shared more equitably among Georgia Power and the owners of the project — Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and Dalton Utilities. Specifically Georgia Power must take on a greater portion of future deficits.
Yet even with a somewhat more reasonable deal for the owners, it could still leave ratepayers on the hook for the extra costs as the project wobbles toward the finish line.
Liz Coyle, executive director of consumer advocate Georgia Watch, said it “appears the owners have decided to plow ahead with a project that holds continued uncertainty and certainly clear risk of major cost increases and very little, if any true protections for Georgia’s electric customers.”
It’s worth noting that in addition to those who see the reactor construction as an endless money pit, others object over the viability and safety of nuclear power as a long-term solution to ease off carbon-based fuels.
Defenders of the Vogtle reactors argue that the jobs it creates in that part of the state justify its support. Among them is Gov. Nathan Deal, who urged Oglethorpe to stay with construction plans “before walking away from 7,000 Georgia jobs.”
We understand bringing jobs to the state has been the governor’s chief priority and achievement, and it is one economic benefit of the project. But utility customers should only have to pay for their electric power, not a jobs program without end or limits on how much is spent.
Oglethorpe’s resistance to continuing without some guarantees was timely and needed, but it’s only the first step. The only way to ensure customers won’t have to keep paying more is if legislators insist on the cost caps they suggested. Perhaps that would accomplish what the Public Service Commission has thus far been unwilling or unable to do to rein in cost overruns.
Remember, that five-member board voted unanimously last year to allow the utilities to keep charging customers for its boondoggle. It fits the profile of a state agency that over the years has seldom met a rate hike it wouldn’t rubber-stamp for utilities, many of which provide campaign donations to its members.
Yet Georgians do get a say in how this plays out. There’s a statewide election in less than a month and two PSC seats are on the ballot. Perhaps if commissioners got a message from voters making it clear they’re tired of footing the bill, the board wouldn’t be as eager to keep signing off on this and other costly ventures.
Customers of Georgia Power and its partner EMCs already have paid more than their fair share to get the reactors on line. Even if the plant is finished and begins turning out electrical power, it will take years to recoup what has been invested. It’s time to unplug ratepayers from the burden and let the big corporation’s shareholders take that responsibility.
Even the strongest advocates for nuclear power as a replacement for carbon-based energy have to understand there isn’t an endless supply of construction money in the pockets of Georgia utility consumers.
The Savannah Morning News says education funding is a key issue in governor’s race:
Education is often referred to as the “beating heart” of our country.
The quality of America’s schools directly correlates to our quality of life. Well-educated children grow up to be productive, conscientious adults with critical thinking skills. Education pumps life into our economy, our government and our communities as efficiently as the heart does blood to our extremities.
Here in Georgia, our education system is due for cardiac bypass surgery.
We need to strengthen our “beating heart,” and the top-of-the-ticket candidates for state office are campaigning on their improvement plans. Education is a particular focus for gubernatorial hopefuls Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp, as both recognize the need for changes and the opportunity the issue provides to reach voters.
The state has significant influence on all levels of education, from preschool to university, and the candidates have nearly as many positions as a textbook does chapters. But every discussion of education in Georgia must begin with the funding formula for Georgia’s public elementary, middle and high schools: The Quality Basic Education Act of 1985.
The funding formula
Commonly known as QBE, the law dictates how the state subsidizes schools with taxpayer money. Revenue is distributed through a formula that determines the education costs per student.
To make significant improvements in our education system, our next governor needs to succeed where others, including current Gov. Nathan Deal, have failed — by overhauling QBE to reflect today’s times.
The formula is outdated. Georgia’s population has nearly doubled since it was enacted, and Deal himself says QBE fails to “meet the needs of a 21st century classroom.” QBE is so flawed, few consider it sacrosanct: Deal and the Georgia General Assembly fully funded the initiative this year for the first time since 2002.
This leaves local districts — and property taxpayers — in a state of uncertainty year after year. Reform is needed in a variety of areas, from teacher pay and retirement benefits to technology updates and school security measures, yet the school systems are left to guess as to how much revenue they will receive annually from the state through QBE.
Both Abrams and Kemp acknowledge the current formula’s shortcomings and both have vowed to make fully funding schools a priority as governor. Abrams wants to see a larger percentage of tax dollars go toward K-12 schools to allow for smaller classroom sizes while Kemp made recent headlines by promising a $5,000 raise for each public school teacher in the state.
Rather than campaigning on a QBE overhaul, the candidates are coming at the problem from different angles.
Taxpayer money for private schools
Complicating the issue of public school funding is the divide over the state’s subsidies for private schools.
The private school scholarship tax credit allows individuals to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to student scholarship organizations, with a cap of $100 million. This, in effect, diverts up to $100 million in tax dollars to supplement private school tuition.
Proponents view this credit as a school choice issue meant to help families whose children are zoned to attend low-performing schools. Opponents point out that these scholarships often go to families who have the means to pay private school tuition.
Fully funding QBE dampens the outcry that taxpayers are subsidizing private schools at a time when the state is failing to meet its public school commitment. However, the candidates have seized on the issue as a way to differentiate themselves from their opponent.
Abrams wants to eliminate the tax credit — except in the case of special needs students who need to attend private schools that cater to them — and use that money to increase public school funding. Kemp, by contrast, proposes doubling the cap to $200 million to expand choice and opportunities for families.
...We encourage voters to further examine the issue and the candidates’ positions.
The Valdosta Daily Times encourages motorcycle riders to travel safely and other motorist to be watchful of two- and three-wheeled vehicles on roadways:
We join the Georgia Motorcycle Safety Program in encouraging motorcycle riders to ride safely and urging all other motorists to be watchful of two- and three-wheeled vehicles on our roadways.
The state Motorcycle Safety Program is a division of the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
Fall is a favorite time of year for motorcyclists, the agency said, and it can be an extremely hazardous time.
“The leaves have started to change, nights are getting longer and cooler air is upon us. For these reasons, more motorcyclists will be on our roadways,” the state said in a news release regarding motorcycle safety.
Motorcycles operate on the roadways with the same rights and privileges as any motor vehicle.
State highway officials consistently encourage motorists and motorcyclists to “share the road.”
Motorcycle awareness and safety has been a priority in Georgia for the past few years and for good reason. Motorcycle accidents are often fatal.
Here are some tips from the Georgia Motorcycle Safety Program:
— Focus on driving/riding. Put away cell phones and other devices.
— Signal intentions and look before changing lanes.
— Use caution at intersections looking both ways before crossing or turning.
— Wear a DOT-approved helmet, reflective gear and bright colors when riding.
— Evaluate your surroundings.
— Drive/ride aware and alert.
— Allow plenty of room between vehicles and avoid blind spots.
It should also be noted that motorcycle rallies and meet-ups often involve alcohol. As dangerous as it is to drink and drive a car, it is even more dangerous to operate a motorcycle while drunk or buzzed. Just don’t do it.
Motorcycle riders are encouraged to take a safety course at one of the Georgia Motorcycle Safety Program-approved sites and to refresh skills and knowledge regularly. More information is available at www.dds.georgia.gov.