Senator Fort’s Statement on Gay Marriage Ruling

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.  The Court’s  decision on gay marriage is a victory not just for the LGBT community but for all Americans who believe in justice. When some of us become more free, we all become more free. The decision overturns the 2004 Georgia constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage.  No longer will Georgians be prevented from participating in the most important expression of love and commitment that our society has.

Senator Fort’s Statement Regarding Confederate Holidays

I will be introducing a bill in the 2016 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly to prohibit the state from designating holidays and official recognition of the Confederacy.  Presently, Georgia recognizes Confederate Memorial Day by executive order and Confederate Memorial Month by legislation.

It is unconscionable for the state to honor the Confederacy which fought to maintain slavery and racial injustice.  The holiday recognition of the Confederacy is an insult to all people of good will who reject that which it represents.

The recent terrorist attack in Charleston makes it clear that racist symbols contribute to an atmosphere that allows for violence and discrimination.  The state of Georgia should not contribute to the creation of such an atmosphere of hate.

City deserves better deal than Tyler Perry

Published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution June 11, 2015

By Vincent Fort

City Hall — and the billionaires and millionaires it collaborates with — is obsessed with mega-projects such as the Falcons stadium, the failed 2012 transportation referendum and the under-ridden streetcar at the expense of Atlanta neighborhood development. It fails to understand Atlanta’s greatness is a product of its beautiful and vibrant neighborhoods, not just its corporate edifices.

The most neglected of these Atlanta neighborhoods are predominately African-American. Not only have these neighborhoods been neglected, they have been assaulted by the public and corporate sectors that have profited from their decline and underdevelopment. They have been victimized by predatory lending, redlining, reverse redlining, mortgage fraud, massive foreclosures and, most recently, investment land banking.

The neighborhoods around Fort McPherson are an example of this. After the decision was made to close the fort, the planning effort to redevelop the 488-acre site began in earnest. The McPherson Redevelopment Authority produced a plan that called for a mixed-use development with a biomedical facility as its centerpiece.

In addition, a community initiative staffed by Georgia Tech faculty and students produced a community-benefits plan that envisioned a development that would integrate the base into the community and hire and train people from nearby high-unemployment neighborhoods, among other things.

When one movie company proposed bringing an 80-acre studio to the base, it was told no negotiations could go forward until the authority had control of the base.

All these efforts came to naught when Mayor Kasim Reed issued an off-the-shelf edict that 330 of Fort Mac’s acres would be sold to a different movie producer — “Madea” creator Tyler Perry — for $30 million. With a net worth of $400 million, Perry was set to move his studios in Atlanta’s Greenbriar neighborhood outside the city when Reed secretly intervened to offer Perry the Fort McPherson property.

Indeed, so much of the Perry deal has been done in secret backroom dealing, I had to appeal to the attorney general to try get the McPherson authority to be transparent and open.

Perry has had a checkered relationship with the neighborhoods where his studios have been located. In Inman Park, when Perry built studios, the neighbors objected to his doing so without permits or plans, and work was stopped. Since his studios have moved to the Greenbriar area, there has been no obvious positive impact on that community. While the details of Perry’s plans for Fort McPherson remain shrouded in mystery, it is clear he intends to wall his acreage off from the community — to build a fort within a fort.

The redevelopment authority has made unsubstantiated statements about projections of added jobs Perry’s studio would produce, but he has made no commitment to hire and train residents from contiguous neighborhoods. Even the Atlanta Olympic Committee agreed to a training and job program for neighborhood residents for the Olympic stadium construction in the 1990s.

Tyler is getting the sweetest of sweetheart deals. Why? He is a friend of the mayor’s, and one of Reed’s college buddies happens to be Perry’s agent. About the time Perry contributed more than $7,000 to Gov. Nathan Deal’s reelection, the state withdrew its plan for a training facility at the fort. While the state was going to pay $10 million for 20 acres at $500,000 per acre, Perry is getting his 330 acres at $90,000 per. While the authority has a right of first refusal if Perry sells any of the property he purchases, the authority will only be able to purchase at market rates.

The coup de grace was Reed’s last-minute presentation of a proposal for the city to put taxpayers on the hook for a $13 million line of credit to do the Perry deal. Reed demanded the proposal pass the same day it was unveiled, and a docile City Council complied. These deals smack of cronyism and corruption.

The city’s neighborhoods need better from Reed and City Hall. It is not difficult to see the Perry deal will maintain underdevelopment and intensify gentrification in southwest Atlanta neighborhoods.

There are alternatives to this trickle-down redevelopment that never seems to trickle down to all of Atlanta’s neighborhoods. The Pryor Road area is an example: In an area that faced many challenges, you now have single-family subdivisions, mixed-income developments, condominiums, a YMCA, a Major League Baseball youth facility, and senior citizen housing.

Along with Turner Field, the Fort McPherson redevelopment will determine the long-term fate of many of Atlanta’s neglected neighborhoods.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, represents the 39th district.

Don’t experiment; expand Medicaid

The Atlanta Journal Constitution May 21,2015

by Vincent Fort

The time for experimenting with people’s health care has passed. Georgia now ranks fifth in the nation for residents without health care coverage, and five of our rural hospitals have closed their doors in the past two years. These closures are expected to worsen in coming years, leaving more of South Georgia without health care. Also, 650,000 Georgians would have had health insurance had Gov. Nathan Deal made the decision to accept Medicaid expansion funding.

The people eligible for Medicaid expansion are the working poor, who make too much to qualify for regular Medicaid health insurance and too little to qualify to purchase health insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Medicaid expansion would provide for an infusion of funds that would help keep rural hospitals open for all of their patients, while tens of thousands of patients at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital would get health insurance.

When the ACA was passed, Georgia was one of many Republican-controlled states that blocked the federally backed Medicaid expansion that was a companion funding mechanism. Republicans railed against the ACA (Obamacare) as an interference with states’ rights. But in the next breath, these same ideologues abdicated their responsibility and blamed the federal government for not fixing the problem.

The disastrous decision not to expand Medicaid in Georgia based on political ideology has cost lives and jobs. At the end of the day, it won’t be Obamacare (now upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court) or the Feds that will be hurt. These acts of political stubbornness only hurt constituents — those who rely on rural and urban hospitals for cancer treatment, emergencies and other basic care.

(Interestingly, while most Republican governors have refused to expand Medicaid, some Republican governors have done so or allowed modified expansions, such as in Arizona and Arkansas.)

As our state health care crisis deepens, Gov. Deal plans to “experiment” with funding for Georgia’s rural and safety-net hospitals by applying for a federal Section 1115 waiver that would allow a handful of urban and rural Georgians access to health care. The waiver process, which could take months, is not guaranteed, and the continued political maneuvering would leave hundreds of thousands of Georgians without access to health care.

Further, a waiver could set up Georgia for continued financial shortfalls. Under alternative models adopted in Arkansas and Florida, private insurance rates rose faster than Medicaid costs. This is important, because most alternative models require some form of premium payment. Over time, these plans show significant inflation and fewer people covered. Why would we financially hamstring the state with an inferior product just so Republicans can claim they did something that’s not Obamacare? And why would we let them?

Democrats will continue to push for full Medicaid expansion in Georgia. This will ensure our citizens have appropriate health care, and help to ensure our rural and safety-net hospitals remain open and that Georgians who work in these hospitals remain employed.

The health care crisis we now face is a self-inflicted wound, purely for ideological reasons. The wound needs immediate treatment: Medicaid expansion.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, is whip of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Statement on Lance Bottoms Double Dipping

While Keisha Lance Bottoms says that the city’s ethics officer signed off on her double dipping–holding a Council seat and the executive director’s position for the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority-that is not completely true.

In fact, while the ethics officer says that there is no violation of the city code, she goes on to write:  “a complete ethical analysis of the issue requires the Council person as well as the AFCRA Board to evaluate whether this arrangement creates an appearance of impropriety or causes a reasonable taxpayer to question whether the interest of a Council Member serving in this position impairs that person’s ability to act in the best interest of the City. The Ethics Code does not specifically regulate “appearances of impropriety.”

The evaluation that the city’s ethics officer called for is just what state legislative counsel did: “…there may be conflicting duties due to the contractual and business relationships that could exist between the City of Atlanta and the authority.  In such cases, the sitting member of the Atlanta City Council could be put in a position of choosing between the duty of loyalty to the city and its interests and the authority and its interests.  Simply refusing to vote or disqualifying oneself from participating on issues involving the authority before the city council may not entirely correct the problem since doing so is, in essence, choosing one set of duties over another.  In such case, the duties of councilmember are rejected in favor of the duties of executive director of the authority.”

Bottoms’ having both positions robs her constituents of full representation or the Authority of full loyalty.  She should make a decision and choose between her council seat and the position as the Authority’s director.

Grant them a fair chance to participate

The Georgia Department of Transportation has a sorry history of exclusion when it comes to minority businesses. This became readily apparent in 2012, when GDOT itself commissioned a Transportation Disparity Study to examine its efforts in utilizing Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs), which included African-American and woman-owned DBEs.

The study showed that African-American businesses received just 2.4 percent of federally funded GDOT projects. Moreover, African-American businesses received an abysmal 1.1 percent of state-funded projects. At that time I said, “The study indicates that, if all things were equal, African-American businesses would receive 22 percent of GDOT’s contracts.”

Women-owned disadvantaged businesses did 8.7 percent of federally-funded GDOT projects and 3.7 percent of state-funded projects. Simply put: GDOT does not have a state DBE program.

For this reason, civil rights organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposed the T-SPLOST. Why? Because there was no substantive commitment to inclusion of disadvantaged businesses.

At the time the disparity study was issued, the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) campaign was going on. The T-SPLOST referenda were held in 12 regions throughout the state. The one-cent T-SPLOST would have raised $18 billion in revenue over 10 ears for transportation projects. The metro Atlanta T-SPLOST referendum failed along with eight of the other 11 referenda.

With the failure of the regional T-SPLOSTs, the need remained for money to repair and build the state’s roads, bridges and transit. But the commitment to inclusion in GDOT’s contracting was still lacking.

In 2014, a Joint Transportation Study Committee was created by the General Assembly to look at transportation funding options. That committee recommended raising as much as $1.5 billion per year.

This year, House Bill 170 was introduced in the General Assembly to put in place the revenues to fund the recommendation.

What HB-170 did not include was any consideration for ensuring African-Americans, women and other DBEs were treated fairly in the contracting process for the $1.5 billion of projects. The legislation passed the House of Representatives. The only thing done to promote minority contracting was a weak letter written by the House transportation committee chair that provided platitudes but no specific commitments.

Senate Democrats demanded the bill include language committing GDOT to the creation of a state DBE program along with policies that supported fair treatment of contractors in the awarding of contracts resulting from HB-170. The Republican leadership and its road-building allies refused to include such language.

When the bill came to the Senate floor, all 18 Democrats voted against the bill, which passed with only the bare minimum of votes necessary. Only after that show of unity did Republicans begin to earnestly negotiate with Senate Democrats. A compromise was reached.

While the DBE language was not included in the bill, there was a commitment by the DOT board that it would consider a resolution. Additionally, a fund to assist DBEs in obtaining bonding and funding of engineering scholarships for minority students were agreed upon.

HB-170, expected to raise $900 million of revenue in its final iteration, passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan manner.

Last week, the GDOT board passed a resolution which called for the establishment of a “DBE program applicable to capital construction projects resulting from the additional state revenue generated by Transportation Act of 2015.”

The commitment on minority contracting reached during the 2015 legislative session was historic. Still, it is only one step in the movement toward ensuring sure all of those who desire to do business with the state of Georgia will have a fair chance to participate.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, a Democrat, represents District 39.