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Dave Williams - Perdue-Richardson spat likely to continue

Gov. Sonny Perdue clearly wants his feud with House Speaker Glenn Richardson to go away.

But the two Republican leaders disagree on too many fundamental issues to make it likely that the governor will get his wish, a reality that's likely to have a major impact on the legislative session that began last week.

The dispute picked up on Monday's opening day where it left off at the end of last year's session.

Just as the House voted on the last day of the 2007 session to override Perdue's veto of the midyear budget, lawmakers voted this time to override a dozen vetoes the governor handed down last spring.

The difference this year was that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle referred the override votes to the Senate Rules Committee.

Last year, senators wouldn't even take up the House override, which killed it right then and there.

Cagle, also a Republican, has tried to play a conciliatory role between Perdue and Richardson.

"They handed me a referee's jersey. I'm not quite sure what that's all about," the lieutenant governor quipped at last Tuesday's Eggs and Issues breakfast.

However, later in the week, Cagle said he was in no hurry to bring the veto overrides to the Senate floor. That will keep the controversy alive as the session unfolds.

But even if the Senate acts quickly on the overrides, there are other issues dividing the governor and speaker.

The main point of contention, as it was last year, is taxes.

Richardson sees himself as a visionary pushing for bold changes in Georgia's tax system.

He was pushing to get rid of property taxes altogether and replace the lost revenue with an expanded sales tax.

But criticism of his tax reform plan has prompted him to rein it in to where it now would apply only to residential school taxes.

Still, Richardson has a fundamental problem with property taxes.

"Property taxes are the 18th century way of funding government," he said. "This is the 21st century."

Perdue, on the other hand, says Georgia's tax system is basically sound and just needs some tweaking.

The governor is proposing a more modest plan to eliminate the state portion of the property tax. That would provide Georgians with $94 million in tax relief, or, about $30 a year.

Perdue, unlike Richardson, doesn't see himself as a change agent. He's a money manager who sees what the state can afford to do, given that the economy is starting to sour, and makes sure Georgia lives within its means.

"I believe in small incremental tax relief on an ongoing basis," he said. "The public doesn't want us to make 90 degree hard right turns and left turns on taxes."

The two leaders' different approaches toward government also is apparent when it comes to transportation.

Again, Perdue is cautious. He sees a state Department of Transportation saddled with a huge backlog of projects and wonders why the state should pour more money into new projects until the inefficiency that created those delays is fixed.

Again, Richardson wants to plow ahead. He sees metro Atlanta plagued by ever-worsening traffic congestion.

Where once only environmentalists complained about air pollution caused by several million motorists driving clogged highways alone, now top business leaders are warning that the state must invest in commuter rail or lose jobs to cities like Charlotte and Birmingham.

"I am willing to do anything except continue to do nothing," the speaker said last week.

Even if the governor and speaker could somehow resolve their differences over substantive issues like taxes and transportation, there's still the power struggle between the two as representatives of the executive and legislative branches of government.

The outcome of the veto overrides could go a long way toward settling that aspect of their dispute.

But the bottom line is it takes both parties to bury the hatchet.

A day after the House votes, Perdue said if lawmakers were trying to send a message, he hopes they got it out of their systems and can now move forward with the state's business.

But Richardson likes a fight. He thinks a good debate between him, Cagle and Perdue, as Georgia's top political leaders, is healthy. In fact, it is his way of moving forward.

"We all have strong wills, our own ideas," the speaker said. "But in the end, the three of us have one common goal: to make Georgia the best state it can be."