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Land deal escalates ethics war in governor's race

ATLANTA - A dispute over the value of undeveloped land Gov. Sonny Perdue bought in Florida two years ago roiled Georgia's gubernatorial campaign on Wednesday.

Democrats filed an ethics complaint charging the Republican governor with intentionally understating the property's value on his personal financial disclosure statement to hide his net worth.

The Perdue camp, meanwhile, released an ad accusing his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, of vastly overstating what the land is worth. The commercial ends with a Pinocchio-like image of Taylor's nose growing.

Wednesday's flurry of charges and countercharges was just the latest in an escalating war of words over alleged ethical wrongdoing by the two candidates.

Taylor began running an ad last week hammering Perdue for buying land in 2004 from a Georgia developer the governor had appointed to an influential state board the previous year. While the governor paid $2 million for the property, the ad said the land is worth $40 million because of its proximity to Walt Disney World.

Democratic leaders also have called on Perdue to give back a $100,000 tax break on the property the governor qualified for because of a bill one of his key legislative allies put through the General Assembly.

Republicans have accused Taylor of using his influence as lieutenant governor to secure leases of state property for his father's Albany trucking firm.

Perdue's new ad draws a sharp distinction between the $2 million the governor paid for the Florida property and what Taylor claims the land is worth.

"Mark's silly ads say some land I own is worth $40 million,'' Perdue says on camera in the ad. "He's only $38 million off.''

But state Democratic Chairman Bobby Kahn said the governor's admission that he paid $2 million for the land means he underreported its value on his disclosure statement.

The report lists the property as worth $185,700, its tax value. State law requires that property be listed according to its fair market value, $2 million in this case, Kahn said.

"The financial disclosure significantly understates the amount Perdue's personal wealth increased while he's been living in the Governor's Mansion,'' he said.

Kahn said the crux of the issue is Perdue's decision not to place his assets in a blind trust, a step previous governors have taken to avoid conflicts of interest.

Perdue has said he didn't create a blind trust when he took office in 2003 because it would have made it difficult to manage a farm supply business he owns in Houston County.