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Bill Shipp - 05/20/09
SONNY SNAPS OUT OF IT

Perhaps we had Gov. Sonny Perdue all wrong. When we said Perdue was a do-nothing governor, maybe he wasn't really doing nothing. He was just waiting for something to happen - something big and awful so he could really show his stuff.

Some thought the prolonged drought would cause Perdue to spring into action. It didn't. Oh, he held a prayer meeting all right, and it may have helped bring some rain. But we, in fact, are still on the edges of a drought.

He whacked school spending and let state compensation for university professors drift downward to among the lowest in the nation.

Transportation turned into a spaghetti-type mess. With Perdue at the helm, Georgia didn't seem the same. No boom. No promises of great things ahead. The all-star leadership team of previous years vanished. The corporate giants of C&S, BellSouth, Georgia Pacific and even Coca-Cola started pulling out.

Gov. Perdue became a sort of miniature Americanized version of Winston Churchill in peacetime - a washed-up politician at age 55. Remember your history, recall what happened: When the German blitz started, Churchill's star lit up.

You have to wonder if our blitz - the prolonged recession - might energize Sonny. There are already signs.

When both houses of the Legislature blithely enacted the Jobs, Opportunity and Business Success Act of 2009 - otherwise known as the King Kong cap-gains tax-cut bill - just about every candidate in next year's election jumped aboard the corporate welfare express. Making the big guys happy might translate into more campaign dollars.

Perdue didn't join the backslapping when the bill passed in the final hours of the legislative session. Instead, Perdue vetoed the so-called JOBS Act and then announced to the world what he had done.

If Perdue had allowed the measure to become law, he would have been hailed as a hero in some boardrooms. Georgia's capital gains tax would have been whacked by 50 percent. The richest 1 percent of the state's taxpayers would have received 75 percent of the benefits. Several other business taxes, including the corporate net-worth tax, would have been eliminated.

Many of Sonny's old pals were dismayed and plain angry at the governor's action. Here was a chance to help the rich - and Sonny snubbed it. Here was a chance to inspire more campaign contributions, and Sonny said no. Why not? He's not running for office next year.

To the governor's credit, he told his disgruntled cracker followers that Georgia just couldn't afford such a tax break right now. In fiscal 2009, Georgia experienced a 13.3 percent budget shortfall. The current budget also is predicated on unrealistic projections of a return to growth. The Legislature may have to go back to Atlanta to rewrite the present budget as a nonfiction document.

Butchering a tax break - especially one the suits had counted on - right out in public is something you hardly ever see in the governor's suite. Usually, something is worked out, away from the media's gaze - something to keep the Chamber of Commerce types chuckling.

Whether Sonny's veto was an aberrant move caused by taking too many aspirins is hard to tell. No matter what, it was brave.

Let's watch Sonny carefully now. Let's see if he goes for an encore or two on other fronts. His tax-cut veto has made leaders of the Legislature somewhat nervous. They are afraid Sonny has started ignoring lobbyists' cues.

Oh, he probably has not gone that far. However, his veto showed he has more understanding of the state's fiscal mess than do many of his fellow officials.

In addition, Sonny's veto of a tax cut in a recession may give our governor some new standing among national Republicans trying to breathe life into their battered old elephant. So why doesn't Sonny flash his veto and step right up to help get the Republicans back on their feet in areas outside the South?

Maybe I hope for too much. Deep down, Southern Republicans may not be interested in taking their party national again when they can keep it right here at home and nominate the kind of candidates they really want. If that's the case, Sonny might not be able to help them much.

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

Note to our readers: This will be the final Bill Shipp column published in the Citizen newspapers. Shipp, who has written political commentary in Georgia for more than 50 years, has decided to "call it quits," as he wrote in a brief e-mail to editors and publishers on Tuesday. His decision is effective immediately.

Shipp worked for the Atlanta Constitution during the civil rights movement and spent three decades covering news and politics for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He resigned in 1987 and started Word Merchants, a company that produced his weekly newsletter and syndicated his twice-weekly column that was published in more than 60 newspapers.