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Bill Shipp - Watch your back, Glenn

If Gov. Sonny Perdue had been speaker of the House last week, he could have easily passed SR 796, a proposed constitutional amendment to remove property taxes from cars, trucks and motorcycles.

If the late Tom Murphy had returned to the podium, he could have enacted it.

If Democratic House Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, were handed the speaker's gavel, he could have won the day. Instead, he led the naysayers.

In fact, the only lawmaker I can think of who couldn't pass such an apparent goody is incumbent Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram. It was his bill and the pride of his stormy tenure.

Richardson's stunning setback - aided and abetted by his own party's leaders behind the scenes - was a bit sad.

The drop-dead vote against Richardson may have marked the end of the political career of the highest-profile and perhaps most ambitious speaker in recent Georgia history. Unhappily, Richardson also is known in the Gold Dome as a ruthless bully and a coldhearted cad. And he seems to have a short memory. He regularly punishes and chastises House members who helped elect him and now occasionally stray from the Richardson fold. Sometimes their politics back home forces them to follow the wishes of their constituents instead of the orders of Herr Speaker.

Were Richardson's bad behavior and inelegant tactics the principal reasons his main legislation died such an ignominious death?

I doubt it. After all, a couple of Richardson's more able and evenhanded colleagues - let's call them Brutus I and Brutus II - made a good showing of trying to pass the proposal.

On the surface, who could possibly oppose such an ice cream-and-cake measure - a bill that seemed comparable to a resolution praising Mom and combat veterans?

If one listened to the arguments of Richardson & Co., there was only one way to go: Vote yea. So why did so many vote no or simply leave the chamber without voting?

The dissidents obviously read the bill, and they did a little pencil math.

Alan Essig, chief bean counter for the nonprofit watchdog Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, analyzed the House's thumbs down and concluded:

"A courageous group of legislators recognized the importance of fiscally responsible tax reform. With their 'no' votes, [they] averted a potential financial disaster for the state."

Passage of SR 796 by the Legislature and then by the voters in November would have created a $672 million hole in the state budget for fiscal 2011. According to Essig, that amount is the equivalent of:

· 100 percent of the PeachCare budget and 27 percent of the Medicaid budget, or

· 8 percent of K-12 education, or

· 29 percent of the Board of Regents budget, or

· 56 percent of the Corrections Department budget.

Essig: "Considering that revenues are expected to slow due to the current economic slowdown, the budget impact would have been greater. In that 75 percent of the state budget goes for education, health care and criminal justice, it would have been impossible to balance the state budget without some combination of deep cuts to those services."

In other words, the speaker might as well have promised a chicken in every pot or a jackpot every payday. They would have the same result: a fiscal train wreck.

Of course, the speaker and his pals say they'll get even. They blame what happened on the minority Democrats. When you consider that both houses of the Legislature and the executive branch are controlled overwhelmingly by the GOP, it's hard to believe a handful of Democrats were responsible for the dirty deed to the speaker.

Watch your back, Romeo. Those two well-dressed guys with Gucci shoes and legislative badges are looking for you and carrying more than pocketknives and best wishes.

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail him at shipp1@bellsouth.net, or visit him on the Web at billshipponline.com.