By Dave Williams
ATLANTA - Gov. Sonny Perdue Thursday condemned the tax reform plan passed by the House this week as "irresponsible," renewing a fight over tax policy he waged with House Republican leaders last year.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to abolish both Georgia's car tax and the state portion of the property tax - subject to voter approval - after Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) agreed to a compromise to get enough Democrats on board to pass it.
Last week, Democrats voted as a bloc to deny the speaker the two-thirds majority needed to approve reforms he has been pushing for the last year.
But on Thursday, Perdue objected to the hastily crafted nature of the version that passed the House.
"This is major tax policy being done on the fly," he said. "I liken it to the Wright Brothers jumping off of Kitty Hawk and designing the airplane on the way down."
Perdue's reaction to the House measure put him on the same side of the debate as some of the plan's most persistent critics.
Less than an hour before the governor's remarks, social services advocates held a news conference outside the Capitol to argue that the state can't afford the estimated $772.8 million impact Richardson's plan would have on the budget within three years.
"Fiscal policy should ensure adequate resources to achieve state goals," said Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia's Children. "We call on the General Assembly to make sure that our resources are there for children."
But House Republican leaders countered that the state's record $1.6 billion in reserves proves that Georgia can afford to cut taxes.
"When taxpayers overpay to government and government has sufficient money to fund all the critical needs, the government should refund that money," said Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter (R-Alpharetta).
House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island) said that when Georgia lawmakers took the sales tax off of groceries in 1996, the state's economy absorbed the revenue loss without forcing any curtailing of services.
But Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said that tax cut took place during an economic boom.
"Now, we're talking about a major tax cut ... as we're heading into a recession," he said.
Perdue and Richardson got into a major tussle over taxes last year, the start to a feud that continues to linger.
The governor vetoed the mid-year budget the House passed a year ago, because it included a $142 million property tax cut.
Then, as now, he argued that the state can't afford it.
"People love to vote for tax cuts," Perdue said. "It's much tougher to balance the budget."
But Keen said the stimulus provided by cutting taxes is the surest way to pull the state out of an economic downturn.
"We respect the governor. He's been a strong fiscal steward," Keen said. "We've just got a strong philosophical disagreement on this issue."