By Jim Tharpe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
It will be North vs. South in the state House of Representatives on Friday in a war over re-creating Milton County out of what is now north Fulton County.
Supporters and opponents of House Resolution 21 expect the controversial measure to hit the House floor on crossover day, the day when legislation must pass one chamber of the Legislature or languish for the year.
House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton) spent much of the week lobbying lawmakers on her proposal, which would permit voters to revive a county merged with Fulton during the Great Depression as a cost-saving measure.
The resolution needs a two-thirds majority of the House -- 120 votes -- to pass, a steep political test for any legislation. Republican sponsors need to pick up at least 15 Democratic votes to move the proposal forward. The two-thirds majority is necessary to change the state constitution to permit more than 159 counties.
Most House Democrats oppose the plan, saying it would hurt the city of Atlanta. They have assailed Republican proponents, accusing them of trying to create more government. And some have argued the measure is racially divisive -- Atlanta and south Fulton are majority black, while north Fulton is predominantly white.
“I think we have the votes to stop it,” said state Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), who chairs the Fulton County legislative delegation. “I don’t think they have, or will get, 120 votes for this."
Jones said the north Fulton cities of Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park, Roswell and Sandy Springs should be permitted to form their own county if voters first approve the idea in November. Supporters argue that 80-mile-long Fulton County is too big and too politically divided to be effectively governed.
Supporters say they have picked up some support this week, and at least one opponent said it's hard to make a call on HR 21's chances.
“It’s a very fluid situation right now,” state Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta) told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Things can change up here this late in the game."
Lindsey, whose Buckhead district would not be in the new county, is one of the few Republicans to oppose the plan. Even Lindsey contends the Fulton County Board of Commissioners is “bloated and blind.” He has a separate piece of legislation, which is lodged in committee, to limit the board’s power.
If the Milton County proposal clears the House, it would still need to get a two-thirds vote in the state Senate and be signed by the governor. Voters would then have to approve the referendum in November. A later vote of potential Milton County residents would be required to establish the county.