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Dave Williams - 2007: The year of Republican infighting

One of the universal realities that keeps politics from getting too dull is that once a party has gained complete control of a government, its leaders turn on each other.

So it was in Georgia in 2007.

A year ago, Republicans were fresh off solidifying their majorities in the General Assembly following their first term in power in both chambers. Gov. Sonny Perdue had been re-elected to another four-year term.

GOP leaders were free to do what they wanted if they worked together.

Instead, by the end of the legislative session in April, Perdue and House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, were locked in a bitter feud over taxing and spending that threatened to spill over into a special session.

Later in the year, the two would continue a turf battle in disputes over who should run the state Department of Transportation and whether the Department of Community Health, an executive branch agency, can bypass the General Assembly.

While most of the year's squabbling was between the governor and speaker, Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and the Senate also got into the act.

In fact, it was Cagle, the upper chamber's presiding officer, and other Senate leaders who touched off the fight that dominated the final month of the legislative session by stripping $200 million from the midyear budget the House had adopted.

Not content just to scrap House projects, senators also went after funding for land conservation and an effort to lure more fishing enthusiasts to Georgia, two of Perdue's top initiatives.

After a three-week stalemate, House and Senate negotiators agreed to turn $142 million of the disputed funding into a property tax cut.

But that didn't suit Perdue, who vetoed the midyear budget on the next-to-last day of the session.

That's when the dispute really got hot.

Richardson accused Perdue of taking revenge against the House for burying his bill cutting taxes on upper-income retirees.

At the speaker's urging, the House voted overwhelmingly on the last day of the session to override the governor's veto.

But when Cagle and the Senate refused to take up the override, the session ended without a midyear budget in place, prompting Perdue to announce that he would call a special session.

In the weeks that followed, however, cooler heads prevailed.

Perdue changed his mind when it became apparent that a special session would only reignite the battle.

Instead, he rescinded his veto. But he still got his way by using his line-item veto powers to reject the portion of the midyear budget that included the tax cut.

The ensuing calm didn't last long. When Perdue signed the $20.2 billion 2008 budget in late May, he redirected some expenditures, essentially instructing state agencies to ignore lawmakers' wishes and spend that money elsewhere.

While the governor secured an opinion from the Attorney General's Office upholding his legal right to redirect spending, House leaders questioned whether it was a legitimate use of power.

Richardson grabbed the limelight during the summer and fall, traveling the state to promote his plan to eliminate most property taxes and replace the lost revenue with an expanded sales tax.

Perdue criticized the proposal as an unnecessary risk to take with a tax system that is working.

Cagle and other Senate Republican leaders also have been lukewarm toward Richardson's legislation.

Indeed, a couple of alternative ways to reduce property taxes have surfaced as pre-filed Senate resolutions for the upcoming session.

During the fall, the Perdue-Richardson feud spilled over into other issues.

In October, Gena Abraham, a reform-minded bureaucrat inside Perdue's executive branch and his choice to become transportation commissioner, defeated Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, Richardson's candidate, by one vote of the State Transportation Board.

Then in December, the state Board of Community Health defied a House committee by approving a rules change that will make it easier for general surgeons to open outpatient centers.

Community Health Commissioner Rhonda Medows, a Perdue appointee, backed the move, which came just two days after the Health and Human Services Committee declared that the board was usurping the legislature's authority.

None of these issues that roiled 2007 is likely to go away in 2008.

The dispute between the health board and General Assembly likely is headed to court.

Two of the transportation board members who supported Abraham are up for re-election and will have to seek votes from legislators who backed Smith.

And tax policy is expected to be front and center throughout the legislative session that convenes on Jan. 14.

Perdue hasn't backed away from his tax cut for seniors.

While Richardson has made some changes to his plan to appease critics, he remains determined to see it through.