The Week: The debate over Vogtle warms up


Reactors 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle are generating a lot of heat — something you’d expect coming from a utility facility — but it’s all rhetorical.

Construction on the reactors at the plant near Augusta was supposed to be completed in eight years, meaning that about now we could expect to see the first watts of power coursing across utility lines to Georgia homes and businesses.

That hasn’t happened. Now, the switch won’t flip to “on” until late 2022 at the earliest, and the cost has grown by at least $5 billion over the original estimate of $14 billion.

Complicating the problem further is the fact that the state’s taxpayers have been tossing money at the project ever since state legislators voted in 2009 to allow Georgia Power to charge customers an estimated $1.6 billion in financing charges and an additional $400 million in other taxes.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, was among those who voted against that plan, but now he seems to think the state needs to keep pushing forward in partnership with Georgia Power.

“I want to work with them to the extent that we can,” Ralston said this past week on GPB's "Political Rewind." “Looking at the long view, we need that facility to come on line. We need the power to be generated by it. I don’t think we should just wash our hands of it and walk away.”

A couple of Republican candidates for governor, however, are in no mood to go easy on Georgia Power.

Clay Tippins seemed to be happy he was nowhere near the Gold Dome when the General Assembly approved the Vogtle plan. He spoke of the “cozy relationship” Georgia Power enjoys with state legislators. That, he said, would include some of the others also aiming for residence in the Governor’s Mansion.

“My opponents have a long record to defend on this issue,” Tippins said. “I will take the time to ask hard questions and apply my proven management experience to protect the Georgia citizens who pay these bills, while insuring Georgia has the energy required to build the first 21st century state.”

Tippins’ comment falls a few notches short in volume compared with that of state Sen. Michael Williams’. He went to 11.

Plant Cronyism has been mismanaged and filled with crony capitalism from the start,” the Republican from Cumming said in a press release. “GA Power was allowed to pre-bill customers for its construction and now they are again passing on cost ‘overruns’ to its customers.

“Georgia (Public Service Commission) analysts stated that GA Power is over-billing by $3.9 billion. The mismanagement and cost overruns should come from GA Power’s massive $5.2 billion profit, not the people of Georgia. We are rewarding failure.”

Why Moore got less? Heading into this past week’s U.S. Senate election in Alabama, the overwhelming share of attention was given to allegations of sexual misconduct against Republican Roy Moore involving teenage girls while he was in his 30s.

But Leo Smith, who until this past summer was in charge of minority engagement for Georgia’s Republican Party, pointed to the strong turnout of African-American voters in Tuesday’s election: According to CNN’s exit polling, 30 percent of all voters were black, with 96 percent of their votes going to the winner, Democrat Doug Jones.

Republicans need to pay attention to what drove those black voters to the polls, Smith said.

First, when Jones was a federal prosecutor, he fought the Ku Klux Klan. Moore, on the other hand, spoke of America’s greatness during a period before the end of slavery, going as far as saying amendments to the Constitution should have stopped with the first 10.

That would have meant there would be no 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and no 15th Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote to former slaves and their descendants.

PeachCare in a jam: While giving his victory speech, Jones urged his future colleagues in Congress to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Some Georgia officials probably nodded their heads in agreement.

Choosing to stay focused on the most recent and unsuccessful attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, lawmakers in Washington let an Oct. 1 deadline pass for renewing CHIP, which operates in Georgia under the name of PeachCare for Kids. The reasoning at the time was that most states had enough money stored away in old coffee cans and under couch cushions to keep their programs going until Congress could approve more revenue sources.

Georgia was thought to be one of those states, with enough money to keep PeachCare running until spring. Now, those dollars could be gone as soon as next month.

Rumor has it a five-year deal is in the works but probably weeks away from passage. Meanwhile, the feds have started diverting some states’ excess money to others in more immediate need.

That means Georgia’s money could run out in January, rather than the previously hoped for March, the Georgia Department of Community Health told Georgia Health News’ Andy Miller.

There’s a lot at stake. In Georgia, the program insures about 132,000 children whose families make too much for the kids to be on Medicaid but less than 2.5 times the poverty level. A combination of PeachCare and Medicaid insures about half of Georgia’s children.

A tested route: Tippins aims to win the governor’s race from the outside lane.

Unlike his GOP rivals — Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, former state Sen. Hunter Hill, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Williams — the Atlanta businessman and former Navy SEAL has refused to pledge to sign a “religious liberty” measure if he’s elected, saying he wouldn’t sign any oath involving undrafted legislation. He wants to kick its tires first.

It’s a good way to set himself apart from the rest of the field. The outsider is a familiar and effective role in recent Georgia elections. Check out U.S. Sen. David Perdue and his denim jacket.

But Tippins does share views with his fellow Republican candidates, including an opposition to casino gambling.

Here are a couple of his other stands: He backs a limited expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program, although he is not calling for in-state cultivation. He opposes state funding for mass transit.

Expecting a wave: Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz took a look at whether Republican gerrymandering of congressional lines will be enough to block a Democratic surge in November’s midterm elections. The answer: probably not.

In Larry Sabato’s Crystall Ball, Abramowitz wrote:

Democrats will need a margin of at least four points on the generic ballot in order to win a majority of seats in the House in the 2018 midterm election. In recent weeks, Democrats have been averaging a lead of between eight and 10 points according to RealClearPolitics. … That large a lead on the generic ballot would predict a popular vote margin of around five points and a gain of between 30 and 33 seats in the House — enough to give Democrats a modest but clear majority.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm held a fundraiser benefiting Democrat Stacey Abrams' campaign for governor.

— The 37,000-member Georgia Association of Realtors is throwing its support behind Republican David Shafer’s candidacy for lieutenant governor.



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