North Fulton legislators re-introduced a bill Monday that could lead to the re-creation of Milton County, hoping this year is the turning point for a proposal that failed in previous sessions.
The enabling legislation for a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment allowing previously merged counties to re-form could pave the way for the affluent parts of north Fulton to break away from the more urban southern part of the county.
Facing bankruptcy during the Great Depression, the former Milton County merged with Fulton in 1932. Breaking loose again would require a statewide referendum on a constitutional amendment to surpass the 159-county cap, then another referendum asking north Fulton voters if they want Milton re-established.
"I’m encouraged this year because the people have spoken in Georgia and across the country that they want less, more efficient government that is closer to the people," said Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell.
Rep. Roger Bruce, an Atlanta Democrat vowing to fight the measure, said he’s already talking to the U.S. Justice Department about a potential voting rights violation. The loss would have disastrous economic effects on the county left behind, he said, but south Fulton would have no say in the final referendum.
“To me, this is like taking somebody and chopping off their arm or their leg and expecting them to be the same," Bruce said.
If the business community and the Legislative Black Caucus unite against the Milton effort, Republicans have an uphill slog ahead, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.
The GOP is still six short of a supermajority in the House and two short of a supermajority in the Senate. An effort to split affluent suburbs from an urban core is bound to have racial overtones, which will put pressure on white Democrats with large black constituencies, Bullock said.
“It’s close, in terms of what the Republicans can do by themselves,” he said. “Operating alone, it doesn’t quite make it.”
The bill is in the House State Planning and Community Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Tommy Smith, R- Nicholls, said he has no opinion on the split, but favors letting north Fulton voters decide.