About 85 people turned out to Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in northeast Cobb to hear the Cobb GOP-sponsored forum, moderated by metro Atlanta columnist Jim Galloway.
Candidates were asked if they believed the Certificate of Need system for hospitals should be dumped in favor of a straight market approach. CONs are essentially licenses granted by the state for a hospital to open. All five candidates agreed that the CON system should be killed off.
“I believe we should get rid of the Certificate of Need,” said SunTrust finance manager John Carson, one of the candidates. “I am a free market capitalist. I believe not regulation, not government, not audit agencies, not committees, the free market should regulate prices and availability and so forth.”
Candidates were also asked if they support amending state law so that nonprofit EMCs are subject to the same rules as for-profit power generators like Georgia Power. Or put simply, does Cobb EMC require fixing at the legislative level?
Carson said he welcomed any options available.
“I think what’s going on with the Cobb EMC board is a complete debacle and a complete shame and a waste of our money and a waste of our resources, and it’s sad that we’re even talking about it,” Carson said. “I don’t like more regulation, but I don’t like governance problems that I’ve seen come out of the board.”
Former Cobb GOP Chairman Don Hill, another candidate, agreed with Carson that Cobb EMC was a debacle. Some have proposed Cobb EMC to come under the Public Service Commission, Hill said. Hill told of recently receiving a card in the mail telling him he had some kind of credit refund coming from Cobb EMC.
“I’ve been with Cobb EMC more years than I’ve got fingers and toes, and I’m all of a sudden now getting a rebate?” Hill said. “Something’s going on. Something is wrong. It needs oversight. I don’t want the government involved. It is a private corporation. We are the ratepayers. We need to be more diligent, and we need to have oversight.”
Real estate agent Roy C. Barnes, a third candidate, answered the question this way: “I agree with getting the government out of it, and that the citizens that are utilizing their product should be the ones that control it and make any judgment they deem are appropriate.”
Former state Sen. Robert Lamutt, a fourth candidate, said the problem is Cobb EMC has “a monopoly of sorts.”
“You got a constraint of services mandated quite honestly by economics and geography, and the problem is you don’t have any kind of competition,” Lamutt said. “Competition constrains these types of shenanigans. Competition constrains cost. And we’ve got to figure out how to move towards a more competitive system.”
Lamutt called for full deregulation to open the market without government oversight except at the minimal level or have the PSC step in “and constrain the shenanigans.”
Candidate and physician Geraldine Wade said much of the current upheaval is based on the existing Cobb EMC leadership, pointing to a move to change that leadership on Saturday.
“I will be voting on a change in leadership, so I think that’s part of the major issue that’s causing the upheaval,” Wade said.
The candidates are all opposed to the 10-year tax coming before voters next year known as TSPLOST.
Carson said based on the draft list, he would campaign and vote against the TSPLOST.
“Look, I know Tad Leithead … I know some of those other guys, but I just don’t see the benefit for Cobb, and I definitely don’t see the benefit for northeast Cobb,” Carson said. “We are being asked to pay a tax in addition to raising our millage rates, in addition to the SPLOST that was enacted in March, and that’s all on top of the water bill increases.”
Wade referenced the matching funds which Leithead and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews say Cobb will receive from the federal government to fund the second leg of the proposed light rail line from Cumberland Mall to Acworth.
“There’s all these efforts to get matching funds from the federal government, and I just feel like that’s getting money from China to put us in further debt, so there’s no great value in getting matching funds to build a system when we’re already bankrupt,” Wade said.
Lamutt denounced the tax increase.
“I think it is unbelievably foolish for us to support raising taxes so that DeKalb and Fulton county can control our tax dollars,” Lamutt said. “That’s crazy. Second of all, who in the heck’s idea was it to raise taxes in the middle of a recession? And by the way, we still are in this recession. Third of all, this really is just a backdoor for MARTA, and I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter what plans and what projects are on this list. We ought to be against this kind of tax where somebody else is controlling our tax dollars. Fulton and DeKalb county, I hate to tell you, don’t have our best interest at heart.”
Barnes said the rail line benefited the Cumberland area, but not the majority of the county, while Hill said mass transit is generally only effective in an urban environment, which Cobb is not. Then there is the fact that people are used to driving.
“You’re talking 20 to 30 years before you’re going to get people out of their cars, ok?” Hill said. “We have congestion problems now. This TSPLOST is not geared toward addressing those kinds of problems. You can talk to all the bureaucrats you want down at the county, down at the state. It is not geared. They want to run a mass transit system to Cumberland (from Midtown). Biggest problem you have is getting to Cumberland. Once you’re there it’s easy to get into Atlanta.”
Galloway said he had planned on asking what they thought of Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal to designate a state agency to oversee mass transit in the metro area, but after hearing the responses, said there was no point.
Responded Carson, “(Deal) might want to do that, and that’s all fine and well. I hope he doesn’t want to do it with taxpayer dollars. But I can say MARTA is a problem. You take a look at national studies, usually fares cover about 25 percent of the ticket price. MARTA is so ineffective that their fares that their ticket price carries 17 percent of the cost of riding. I do not want Cobb to be a bailout for MARTA.”
During the forum Lamutt was asked about media reports detailing several liens worth $136,500 which the IRS filed against him for taxes owed by his business.
“If you had a situation like virtually everybody in commercial real estate does where you got to the point where you had more taxes than you had income in a particular year and everybody, all your peers were going under, and they were all telling you, ‘Robert, the way you do this is go ahead and bankrupt the company, fire all of your employees and start over and you can get rid of all those taxes, you can get rid of all the other debts that you got, you can start over and everything is going to be nice and clean,’ the problem is that I have 15 employees, and those 15 employees were my family,” Lamutt said. “I decided there’s a better way to do this. What you do is you call up the IRS very simply and you say you’re taxing me more than my income. Put me on a payment plan. They said, ‘yep, we’ll do that, but since this is a corporate entity you’ve got one property. We don’t know how you’re going to secure that. They said, ‘we’re going to put a lien on you.’ I said fine, put a lien on me because I’m going to protect those 15 jobs.”
The 30,101 active voters in House District 43 will head to the polls in a special election on Sept. 20 to determine Franklin’s replacement. A run-off election, if needed, will be held Oct. 18.
Among those in the audience Monday were Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart, Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy, Cobb school board member David Banks and Georgia Tea Party Chairman J.D. Van Brink. Everhart said she wasn’t endorsing anyone, but believed the debate was a draw.
“I don’t think we had a winner,” Everhart said. “I think probably Wade, she did well for her first time out. Of course Robert, he was a senator, he knew a lot of the answers, he looked good. Don Hill. I think the gentleman (Barnes) needs to study up a little bit and feel better about what he puts out there for people to hear. I think his heart’s in it. Probably if elected he’ll be really good. He was a little nervous and didn’t come across with a lot of good points. But I thought all the rest did. They all had things they wanted to get across and what they want to do when they get there, so I couldn’t say there was a winner.”