By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.netBuckhead Rep. Ed Lindsey says a plan to recreate Milton County could do much harm to his home community of Buckhead.

“Milton County is dangerous for us,” the Dist. 54 representative told the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods on March 18.

He said members of the Buckhead group should ask their neighbors to send e-mails and letters to legislators urging they defeat HR 21, a bill being pushed by representatives of communities in north Fulton County as a way to create a new Milton County.

Lindsey’s district includes a large portion of Buckhead as well as a portion of Sandy Springs, one of the communities to be included in the recreated Milton County if HR 21 should pass. Buckhead, as part of the city of Atlanta, would remain in Fulton County.

A few days before his Buckhead appearance, speaking at a meeting of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, Lindsey voiced opposition to the bill, but he was much more outspoken during the Buckhead gathering

“As badly as we may think Fulton County operates, we should not be the ones stuck with the bill should the county be divided,” Lindsey told his Buckhead constituents. “That is exactly what will happen. This bill does nothing to reform Fulton County government. It just allows one group to walk away and leave the rest of us with the problem, and that’s just wrong.”

. At one point, Lindsey called the bill “a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

Lindsey was joined at the meeting of the council of neighborhoods by State Sen. Vincent Fort, and both said there are not enough votes in either the House or Senate to pass HR 21. Both legislators said the Milton County effort was about 15-20 votes shy of the number needed for passage in the House and about four votes short in the Senate. It would need 128 votes in the house and 38 in the Senate to pass.

Lindsey said that even if HR 21 did pass in the Legislature, he felt sure it would be struck down by the U.S. Justice Department because it would never pass a muster under the Voting Rights Act.

At both meetings during the week of March 15, Lindsey said that while transportation, water, education ethics and recreating Milton County are all important issues facing the General Assembly he considers the number one issue to be the budget.

In Sandy Springs, Lindsey pointed to the audience of about 100 business people and said the problem is “you are not making as much money as you did in the past,” so state revenues are down. Lindsey said the state budget two years ago was set at $21.2 billion. Today, he said, it is $17.4 billion, a reduction of $3.8 billion.

He pointed out that 85 percent of the state’s expenses come from salaries and two-thirds of that is teachers’ salaries. Unemployment in the state is well over 10 percent at present and is about 17 percent, if you count the people who have stopped looking for work, Lindsey said.

In terms of state spending, Lindsey said education, health and prisons eat up 80 to 85 percent of the budget, with education alone taking close to 60 percent. Although much has been made of cuts that have been made and are proposed to education, Lindsey said, because of other cuts, the state is spending a higher percentage of its budget on education than before.

He said that while good strides have been made in improving education throughout state schools, “Of low income students, 50 percent of those who enter the ninth grade will not graduate. That is morally wrong and totally unacceptable,” Lindsey told both groups of his constituents, which do not include major low-income areas. .

Lindsey said everything is on the table for discussion in dealing with the budget issues. He said options being considered include a temporary 1 percent increase in the sales tax, removing the tax emption for food purchases and imposing a higher tobacco tax. He said there are discussions of how reduce the size of government, possibly through privatizing or eliminating or consolidating certain functions. The state already has 7,000 fewer positions and has left another 3,000 unfilled, he said. “We have already taken care of the big items.”

At the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting, Sen. Fort said he is not optimistic the state will decide to fund MARTA like other states do with mass transit in major cities. He said the so-called “bed tax” on hospitals is off the table for this session of the legislature, but the cigarette tax likely will happen.