James Salzer has done an excellent job providing a play-by-play chronicle of this year's battle over the budget in the Legislature in an AJC
article. As he so accurately states, what happened this year will likely be part of statehouse lore for years to come. You don't need to read what follows now -- no doubt you remember it at the present -- but it is here if you need it in the future (and in case you haven't noticed, the link I provide to his AJC article will not be any good in a couple of weeks or so). James Salzer writes:Budget brawl of '07 endsGovernor decides against special session
Homeowners won't be getting a property tax break, but the state's health care program for children of the working poor will get the money it needs to stay afloat, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday.
Perdue decided that trying to hold a special session to redo the midyear budget would be futile because an agreement between the House, Senate and his office wasn't anywhere in sight. So he undid his April veto of the $700 million budget, which runs through June 30, but killed the $142 million tax break for homeowners that House members had insisted on.
In doing so, he put a stop — at least temporarily — to the unusually public battle that has been raging in the Republican majority at the Capitol for seven weeks.
Since late March, Republican leaders have fought over conservative principles, pork-barrel spending, tax cuts and vetoes, trash-talking enough to leave the clear impression that the statehouse crowd is a badly dysfunctional family.
When one lobbyist was accused of smacking another lobbyist over the head with a beer bottle at a party on the night the 2007 session ended, it was used by some lawmakers and columnists as a metaphor for much of what went wrong this year.
Exactly how Perdue wound up in front of TV cameras Tuesday explaining his decision to veto the tax cut will likely be part of statehouse lore for years to come.
The spark for the political firestorm came March 20. The House had just passed the midyear budget when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the Senate's president, asked to speak with House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram).
The House passed the budget 171-1 that sunny afternoon, in a rare display of virtual unanimity. But Cagle told Richardson the Senate wouldn't go along with the kind of local projects the House had added.
The fight was on.
Lawmakers broke several times during the first two months of the 2007 session, waiting for word from Congress about new funding to keep PeachCare alive. The program was running out of money. New enrollments were shut off in March because the state couldn't afford to sign up more children. If Washington didn't come through, lawmakers needed to add $81 million for PeachCare into the spending plan that covers expenses through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
When it became apparent that help wasn't on the way — and with the 40-day session winding down — the House Appropriations Committee passed a midyear budget. The spending plan included the money PeachCare needed, but it also had funds for local museums, tourism projects, an animal hospital and library equipment requested by legislative leaders.
The budget passed the House at 3:11 p.m. on March 20. Within hours, Cagle had made it clear that the Senate had other ideas. House leaders expressed shock, saying Cagle hadn't said a word to them about his position until that day.
Cagle told reporters the midyear budget should only be used for emergencies. House leaders thought their colleagues in the Senate were accusing them of being big spenders, but they figured Cagle and the Senate would eventually give in.
"We all thought it was a short-term position," said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island).
The squabble may have been inevitable because of the personalities involved. Richardson and Cagle both have talked of running for governor in 2010. Richardson is quick-tempered, while Cagle comes across as Mr. Cool. Both men have shown a stubborn streak.
While Cagle had riled up the House, Richardson's leadership team angered Perdue by announcing it wouldn't consider his bill to eliminate income taxes for upper-income retirees.
House members, meanwhile, complained that Perdue was largely absent from discussions until the final week or so of the session.
With only a few days left in the session, and budget negotiations stalled, House leaders decided to propose a $142 million tax cut and dare the Senate to reject it. Instead, Cagle accepted the deal.
Richardson and Cagle announced the breakthrough at a late-night news conference, both touting the tax cut.
Perdue was not pleased. With revenue collections dicey, the state needed money in reserves more than a tax rebate that would mean less than $100 to many homeowners. He also noted that the budget deal left out money for adult literacy programs, prosecutors and agencies that needed funding to get through the end of the fiscal year.
Perdue threatened for a week to veto the budget, but House members wouldn't budge. So on the eve of the last day of the session, the governor killed the $700 million spending plan. He held on to the veto documents, though, knowing that the House wouldn't be able to vote to override his decision until he officially transmitted it.
That didn't stop the House. The next morning members voted 163-5 to override the veto, but the Senate, which had never really been sold on the idea of the tax cut, didn't go along.
The governor's spokesman referred to the House as a bunch of sixth-graders; Richardson accused Perdue of showing "his backside" and acting childish.
The veto meant lawmakers would have to return to Atlanta for a special session. Richardson vowed that the House would just override the veto again. The stalemate continued for two weeks.
Richardson broke the ice when he apologized to the governor Monday for some of the comments he made after the session ended. But he didn't back off from the tax cut and Perdue decided a special session would be futile.
"There was obviously no spirit of compromise with the House leadership," Perdue said Tuesday. "They simply wanted to talk about override [of his veto]. Leaders, in my opinion, don't act in such a way."
House leaders said they did the right thing. "The House will not compromise when it comes to defending the taxpayers of Georgia," said Clelia Davis, spokeswoman for Richardson.
Cagle praised the governor. "I've never seen a tax cut I didn't like, including this one. But under the financial circumstances that exist, it was difficult for the governor to agree to it," Cagle said. "Now it's time to move on, and not start the political posturing."
Moving forward may not be so easy. Perdue still has yet to sign the $20.2 billion budget lawmakers passed for fiscal 2008, which begins July 1.
State revenue collections were down 1.9 percent in April, the second consecutive bad month in a slowing economy.
Perdue warned that cuts might have to be made. "I will take corrective action to make sure we meet our '08 budget," the governor said.
Some local projects favored by House leaders will likely be cut. Even without a tight budget, some kind of payback is typical after such a brutal public fight.
If that happens, one House member said, "any chance he has of passing anything meaningful through the House again is gone."
• March 20: The House passes a $700 million midyear budget that fleshes out spending for the current year. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle says he'll strip $58 million in House "pork" projects. As punishment, the House pulls the budget bill back like a dollar on a string but hands it over a week later.
• March 26: Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons) says the governor's proposed tax break for retirees will have to wait until next year when the House rolls out its reform package.
• March 28: The Senate approves a stripped-down version of the midyear budget.
• April 10: In a late-night meeting, House and Senate negotiators agree to a budget compromise that includes a $142 million tax rebate that promises an average $100 per homeowner. In North Georgia, for instance, Towns County residents would get about $23 each. The governor later condemns the rebate.
• April 19: After telegraphing his punch days in advance, Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoes the midyear budget on the next-to-the-last day of the legislative session and promises an immediate rematch.
• April 20: On the day of adjournment, the House easily overrides the governor's veto, but the Senate refuses to go along.
• April 21: Minutes after the session ends at midnight, House Speaker Glenn Richardson declares that the governor "showed his backside" with his veto. He promises another override effort in any special session.
• April 22-May 6: The governor and House speaker give each other the silent treatment. The lieutenant governor acts as mediator.
• May 7: Richardson apologizes for suggesting that Perdue had mooned voters. But he won't back off his threat of an override, urging Perdue to withraw his budget bill veto and avoid the special session.
• May 9: At noon, the governor rescinds his budget bill veto but uses his line-item veto to erase the property tax rebate. Perdue condemns as obstructionists his fellow Republicans in the House: "Leaders, in my opinion, don't act in such a way." Says a spokeswoman for Richardson, the House speaker: "The House will not compromise when it comes to defending the taxpayers of Georgia."