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Republican spat heats up over midyear budget

ATLANTA - The Senate's top Republican turned up the heat Wednesday in a dispute over Georgia's midyear budget that rocked the end of this year's General Assembly session and is sending lawmakers into overtime.

Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson announced that he would not vote to override Gov. Sonny Perdue's veto of the midyear spending blueprint.

It was that veto last week - which the House subsequently voted to override - that left the legislature with unfinished business to deal with in a special session.

While Senate leaders cited a technicality in refusing to take up the veto override last Friday, Johnson said Wednesday that he wouldn't support it on its merits.

In making that pledge during a news conference in his hometown of Savannah, Johnson criticized a $142 million tax cut proposed by the House that became the key component of the midyear budget.

"The General Assembly hoped to use the surplus to provide a one-time property tax cut of about $100 per homeowner," he said. "(But) it turned out to be a logistical nightmare that would result in about half that amount getting to the taxpayer."

House Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter responded by pointing out that Johnson, as a member of the House-Senate conference committee that crafted the final version of the midyear budget, signed off on the tax cut less than two weeks ago.

"After all our hard work to reach a compromise ... Sen. Eric Johnson compared the final result to giving birth, saying that you can't have a beautiful baby without the pains of labor," Burkhalter, R-Alpharetta, said Wednesday. "I guess he's decided to put that baby up for adoption."

Perdue found fault with the tax cut as well. When he vetoed the midyear budget last Thursday, the governor said the rebate to homeowners would blow a hole in the spending plan, leaving a host of state services short of funds through the end of this fiscal year on June 30.

The next day, the final day of the 2007 regular legislative session, House Speaker Glenn Richardson spearheaded the veto override, which passed by an overwhelming margin.

Later, Richardson, R-Hiram, accused Perdue of vetoing the midyear budget because the House had refused to go along with a tax cut the governor wanted, eliminating state taxes on retirement income.

Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan declined to comment Wednesday on the latest charges and countercharges by feuding Republican lawmakers.

Minutes after the session ended last Friday night, Perdue announced that he would call the legislature back for a special session.

He is expected to set an opening date by the end of this week.