Hours After Gov. Palin Endorses Karen, Georgia's Most Corrupt and Ethically Challenged Politician Throws Hail Mary in Attempt to Save Floundering Campaign
Reeling from media reports of federal and state corruption investigations, questionable fundraising practices and contributor shake-downs, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine is putting those funds to use in a desperate, last minute "Hail Mary" to stop Karen Handel's momentum one week before the primary.
Utilizing campaign funds he strong-armed from insurance executives and others he regulates, Oxendine has launched a negative campaign attack against new front-runner Karen Handel. Recycling old and already debunked accusations concerning Karen's views on life and spending, Georgia's own "walking ethics complaint" hopes that by smearing Handel he can stop his own campaign's free fall.
Oxendine's new attack ad is laughably and provably false. A point by point debunking of its claims follows.
"Under her (Handel's) leadership, Fulton County spending has skyrocketed." [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 29, 2004]
The article cited was published on January 29, 2004, at which point, Karen had been County Commission Chairman for two months. In it, Karen is shown to be championing budget cuts and calling for less spending while Democrats on the Commission fight her. The article is clear, and it is attached in its entirety. The article also says: "One faction on the county Board of Commissioners, led by new GOP Chairwoman Karen Handel, says the county's spending is out of control and must be reined in before disaster strikes."
"She gave nearly a half a million dollars to an abortion provider."
These funds were a pass-through grant from Congress to the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health -- ironically when Nathan Deal was in Congress and Eric Johnson was in the State Senate -- to provide screening for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical and breast cancer. Federal and state law, as well as State DHR regulations prohibited the funds from being used for abortion services, referrals or information.
Karen "supported taxpayer benefits for gay couples."
Fulton County's Domestic Partner Benefits program was passed prior to Karen Handel taking office as Fulton County Chairman. When the issue came before her as Chair, Karen voted no. [Agenda Item 06-0558, Passed 4-2. Commissioners Pitts, Lowe, Boxill and Edwards voted Yes. Commission Chair Handel and Vice-Chair Darnell No. (August 16, 2006)]
"John Oxendine is the most corrupt politician in Georgia's history and is far more likely to serve a term in prison than he is to serve as Governor," Handel spokesman Dan McLagan said today. "He sees the campaign slipping away from him and he has hit the panic button to spend millions on false, negative ads. It's pathetic and the voters will see right through him."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By: D.L. BENNETT
January 29, 2004
Commission's budget bridges two factions
Fulton County government is either a massive spendthrift or a prudent money manager. It all depends on whom taxpayers want to believe.
One faction on the county Board of Commissioners, led by new GOP Chairwoman Karen Handel, says the county's spending is out of control and must be reined in before disaster strikes.
Others, including Emma Darnell, Nancy Boxill and Bill Edwards, say Fulton's finances are strong and well-managed.
Fulton government spending has skyrocketed in recent years, with the rate of growth of government spending outpacing inflation and population growth since 1997.
In 1997, Fulton government's two main operating funds spent $469 million. The 2004 budget proposal set spending at $755 million -- a 60 percent increase.
Board members on Jan. 21 trimmed that proposed budget to $712 million. Still, that's a $34 million increase over 2003 final spending.
Mike Kenn resigned as County Commission chairman last year, in part out of frustration over his inability to control the county's finances and slow spending. He constantly warned board members they were spending recklessly.
"The crime here is that the Board of Commissioners is outspending its known revenue stream," Kenn said last week. "Property taxes continue to go up. If this was a business, you'd be out of business."
Fulton just wrapped up 2003 with about a $5 million deficit, the county's third straight year in the red and its fifth since 1997. The 2004 budget proposal for the fiscal year that started Jan. 1 calls for a $50 million deficit that will be covered by dipping into reserves.
"I'm willing to say there are probably some increases that were justified," Handel said. "But the county has been on a spending spree. We need to now take a hard, close look at the budget."
Not all commissioners think county spending has been reckless.
At the board's Jan. 7 meeting, commissioners boasted at length about how the county ended the year with $111 million in reserve between its two main operating funds. The $600 million general fund pays for services countywide, while the $100 million special service district fund covers extra services provided only outside city limits.
"We must be doing something right," said Commissioner Tom Lowe. "I know we run a solid government. I don't think we throw money away."
Commissioners Darnell, Boxill and Edwards made similar comments. "Where is all the mismanagement?" Darnell asked at one meeting.
Handel proposed an alternative budget Jan. 12 that was balanced by taking $38 million out of county savings and making up the rest with cuts. Many of her suggestions won approval two days later during the commissioners' all-day work session.
According to figures provided by the Fulton County budget office, spending between 1997 and this year's proposed budget has outpaced inflation by $160 million.
In the same period, Fulton's population has inched up by just 35,000 residents, or about 5 percent. Property tax revenues, meanwhile, have grown sharply but have not kept pace with spending. The 2004 budget calls for the generation of $460 million from property taxes, up 42 percent from the $325 million collected in 1997. Total revenues are up even less, 36 percent. Other sources of income include business license fees, sales taxes and development fees.
John Sherman, Fulton's leading anti-tax activist, said the county needs to control spending before the county's finances run aground.
"There is no professionalism in the spending process," Sherman said. "It has gone haywire."
The amount of spending growth can't be attributed to any one agency.
Courts spending is up 107 percent. Public safety spending has climbed by 61 percent. Administrative costs are up 42 percent. Service agencies are also up 47 percent.
This year, Fulton plans to spend $105 million on courts, $152 million on public safety, $209 million for administrative agencies and $252 million to deliver services.
The budgets for a dozen agencies have at least doubled since 1997. Among those agencies are the Board of Commissioners. The offices for the seven members cost Fulton taxpayers $1.5 million in 1997. They get $3.1 million in the 2004 budget.
Commissioner Bob Fulton said commissioners' salaries have increased, as have those of staff. The number of staff members also has increased.
"The people working for me have taken on significant responsibilities," Fulton said.
Sheriff Jackie Barrett would get $80.3 million in the current budget. Her agency spent $55 million in 1997. Barrett said spending has jumped because the agency hired 50 new jailers and opened two new overflow facilities for inmates.
Inmate medical costs have nearly doubled, to about $14 million, she said. "We've had a steady bit of business since 1997," Barrett said. The number of prisoners booked into the jail jumped from 29,930 to 38,600 over the period.
County attorney O.V. Brantley said the jump from $1.7 million in 1997 to $3.7 million this year represents a change in how her office does business. The agency used to farm out much of its work but now relies on an in-house team of 22 lawyers. Outsourced lawyers show up on the budgets of the departments for which they work, not the county attorney's, Brantley said.
"There was an outside lawyer doing practically everything," Brantley said. "It was impossible to manage."
Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution