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Perdue legacy full of problems

Already, we are talking about President Bush's legacy and wondering how and for what he will be remembered.

After next year's legislative session, Gov. Sonny Perdue officially enters lame-duck territory. He's preparing now to add "emeritus" to his title.

Perdue has established a wondrous and potentially problematical political action committee with over $750,000 from his re-election campaign contributions. Rumors abound as to whether this money will be used to punish GOP enemies from the 2007 legislative session or as seed money to get on a vice presidential short list - or to begin a campaign to succeed Sen. Johnny Isakson, if Isakson comes marching home to run for governor in 2010.

Let's take a look at Perdue's legacy right now in terms of his dealing with perhaps Georgia's proudest institution: the University System of Georgia.

Perdue isn't known for his day-to-day involvement with the University System, but his years in office will leave a huge mark. Perhaps no governor since Eugene Talmadge has dabbled so much with the university apparatus.

In 2004, Perdue's bumbling bookkeeping forced him to cut the University System budget by tens of millions of dollars after the budget year had begun. Then-Chancellor Tom Meredith called for an unprecedented mid-year tuition hike to compensate for the loss.

Meredith effectively signed his own pink slip. The tuition hike was not approved, and Perdue worked behind the scenes for more than a year to make sure Meredith knew he was no longer wanted here. The Capitol buzz is that Meredith was fighting with Perdue over $1 billion in cuts to the University System - and knew he had a year to find opportunities elsewhere. He's now in Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Perdue did step up to bat for one administrator: UGA President Michael Adams. In the biggest battle ever waged in Bulldog Country, Perdue quietly took Adams' side over football legend Vince Dooley when Adams demanded that Dooley retire as athletics director. Thousands of Georgia alumni protested loudly, but Adams and Perdue stood firm.

The Dooley matter still simmers, but more oil is about to be applied to the fire. Perdue and Adams want to build a brand-new medical college in Athens. The folks in Augusta are spitting mad. Is there really a need to duplicate the bureaucracy and budgets in Athens for what already exists in Augusta at the Medical College of Georgia?

(FYI: Executives of the Medical College have been told to keep quiet about the rival Athens facility - or else.)

Meanwhile, Grady Hospital may be breathing its last gasp if the state cannot find tens of millions of dollars to save it from impending bankruptcy.

Fifty percent of all doctors now practicing in Georgia passed through Grady. The big hospital serves the teaching needs of Emory and Morehouse. The Emory med school has other alternatives if Grady closes. Morehouse has nowhere else to turn for a residency hospital.

So why are we even talking about building and staffing another state medical school when we are struggling to keep our largest and best-equipped hospital from collapsing?

It makes no sense, especially if we check out the many other community health-care needs, ranging from better kids' insurance to upgrading trauma units.

Perdue has brought the state back to a grand Georgia tradition. It no longer matters whether you and I are better off than when the governor was first elected; it only matters if the governor is better off than when he was elected. The backroom dealing that Perdue has done with the University System will certainly fill out his legacy right alongside customized protection from taxes in real estate deals you and I would never have been privy to. Remember Oaky Woods? The university project also pays off some old political IOUs on the Board of Regents. Ah, we digress.

Without much notice, Perdue has surpassed Eugene Talmadge in monkeying with the supposedly autonomous University System. Eugene Talmadge's greatest legacy was an enduring black eye for the state. Wonder what Perdue will leave us.

And I wonder: When will the first Kia roll off the assembly line at West Point?

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at shipp1@bellsouth.net.