Fonda flap distracts from real troubles

Republican legislators ought to present Democratic Sen. Steen Miles of DeKalb County their first annual "Perfect Timing" award.

She certainly wins our nomination. The Georgia electorate was just beginning to sit up and take notice of the most anti-people legislative session in history when Steen stepped in.

She introduced a resolution in the Senate praising Jane Fonda for her campaign to prevent teenage pregnancy. She might as well have authored a measure honoring Sen. Edward Kennedy for his work in water safety. The effect would have been the same.

Fire-breathing orations denouncing Fonda erupted all over the place. Legislators, who have spent the past 35 days kissing lobbyists' rings, suddenly found their moral compass. Some even remembered that they were military veterans. To a man, they came out shouting foursquare against citing "Hanoi Jane" for anything, except perhaps treason.

The quintessential female Hollywood villain, Fonda was the perfect distraction to take the public's mind off these Gold Dome thumb twiddlers and reprobates.

Miles, a former TV journalist, must have known what she was doing. She could not have been so naive. Any attempted public tribute to Fonda was bound to cause a train wreck.

While legislators thundered against Fonda's anti-war activities in the 1970s, Georgians appeared mesmerized. Many seemed to forget what their legislators were doing to them today. Here is a short list of reminders:

• The General Assembly has enacted a bill to prevent the Public Service Commission from establishing rates and regulations for certain emerging communication systems, including broadband and voice-over-Internet services. Here we go again. This is likely to be "Gas Deregulation - the Sequel." You know what that means - higher prices, less competition and worse service. Check your gas bill; it's a preview of your phone bill.

• The Legislature is about to adopt a measure to allow Atlanta Gas Light to charge consumers $300 million for a new pipeline. AGL, by the way, does not need the capacity for its Georgia ratepayers.

• Georgia Power is working quietly to secure legislation to require ratepayers to finance a $51 million feasibility study for a new nuclear plant. If the company decides the nuclear plant is a no-go project, guess what? You and I still get to pay for the planning.

• Republican lawmakers are sponsoring a bill to eliminate permanently the sales tax on energy used by major manufacturers. Small businesses and residential consumers will take up the slack. The tax break for the fat cats is said to be worth more than $1 billion over the next decade.

• Gov. Sonny Perdue's floor leaders are pushing legislation to give real estate developers the power of taxation.

• The Legislature and governor's office have already whacked more than $1.25 billion from the state school budget, thus driving up property taxes in 100 school districts.

• The same bunch has reduced the University System budget by more than $1 billion, forcing increases in tuition at the state's colleges and universities. Georgia's once proud and expanding system of higher education is taking its worst beating in 50 years.

• Almost as a prologue to this budget shell game, the Legislature last year passed a law to restrict and, in some cases, eliminate citizens' rights to seek legal redress for injuries suffered at the hands of obscenely rich health care corporations. The excuse for this "tort reform": to reduce malpractice insurance rates. The reality: Malpractice insurance rates either stayed the same or went up. The insurance companies sent their thanks.

Corporate lobbyists report a 30 percent increase on spending for goodies for the governor's office and the General Assembly in the past three years. Note we said report. We might faint if we knew the real increase.

To his credit, Perdue finally landed a 2,500-job Korean car-making plant in economically hard-hit West Point. It's about time. Georgia is tied with Katrina-ravaged Louisiana for the sharpest increase in unemployment. The Peach State also is experiencing the steepest decline in personal income in the country.

The ghost of the old Populist Party leader, Tom Watson, must be outraged. Never have so many elected state leaders turned their backs in plain view on the interests of ordinary Georgians. Never have so many elected officials handed out so many millions of dollars in welfare - to corporations.

They must believe delivering diatribes against Ted Turner's infamous ex will make us forget their real doings. They could be right.

One might think that Democrats would remind us constantly of the controlling party's shoddy performance, but such reminders seldom appear. Elected Democrats seem too timid to take more than tentative swings at the opposition. Or the donkeys unwittingly wander into Fonda-type traps. In the upcoming election, some critics fear that Georgia voters will be faced with deciding between venality and stupidity.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.