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Vetoes find some lawmakers more forgiving than others

Gov. Sonny Perdue papered over his dispute with House Republicans last month when he avoided a special session of the Legislature by rescinding his veto of the midyear budget.

But the rift broke out again last week when the governor vetoed $130 million in spending projects from the $20.2 billion 2008 budget, including some coveted by House GOP leaders.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, the driving force behind a lopsided House vote in April to override Perdue's earlier veto, quickly issued a statement through his spokeswoman threatening to give the new rash of vetoes the same treatment when lawmakers reconvene in January.

But in the days that followed Wednesday night's veto blitz, the case against the governor as a petty politician out to punish enemies took some hits.

A veto-by-veto analysis showed that Perdue made legitimate arguments against many of the projects he rejected.

More importantly, he showed himself to be an equal-opportunity slasher of spending by eliminating projects supported by his political allies as well as those pushed by opponents.

"He feels he judged things based on policy and not politics," said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who backed Perdue to the hilt in the fight over the midyear budget yet lost one of his top priority projects to the governor's budget ax. "That's a very admirable way to govern."

House Republicans were not nearly as forgiving.

Rules Committee Chairman Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, accused Perdue of going after House GOP leaders in cutting projects such as $8 million in startup funding for a charter school in Cobb County and $2.5 million for the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

"It's inconceivable that the governor would rather spend money on fish," said Ehrhart, referring to Perdue's $19 million Go Fish Georgia tourism promotion initiative.

House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, who seldom agrees with Ehrhart, said the squabble between Perdue and Richardson does appear to be more personal in nature than disputes among Democratic leaders when Democrats controlled the Legislature and governor's office.

"The fight continues to be more at a petty level than an issue of where they want to take the state," said Porter, D-Dublin.

But Perdue found sound policy reasons for knocking some of the projects out of the budget that have nothing to do with which lawmaker sponsored them.

For example, he balked at the Legislature's decision to put up $575,000 for the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in Augusta - funding sought by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ben Harbin of nearby Evans - because it would have represented a whopping 980 percent increase.

It didn't help the museum's cause that it's still operating out of a trailer a decade after the state borrowed $6 million to build it.

As for the vetoes mentioned by Ehrhart, Perdue argued that charter schools should compete for state grants and that handing them money would set a bad precedent.

The governor didn't actually cut the $2.5 million lawmakers had earmarked for the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Instead, he redirected it to help fund a planned state park commemorating the Civil War Battle of Resaca.

Cagle said Perdue also cited legitimate concerns in his veto of $40 million in bonds the Senate added to the budget at the lieutenant governor's request for the Peachtree Corridor project, a $1 billion plan to make over Atlanta's centerpiece thoroughfare.

Cagle said the governor objected to funding the improvements with gasoline tax money, which is limited under Georgia's Constitution to roads and bridges.

"I was a very strong advocate for that project," Cagle said. "(But) the governor has the right to do that. ... I will come back next year, and he's committed to work with all parties to get that project done."

That's not to say that Cagle is happy with the unusually high number of budget vetoes meted out by Perdue.

The lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, wouldn't even consider following the House's example and overriding the governor's veto of the midyear budget.

But he wouldn't predict what might happen in January when lawmakers return to the Capitol for the 2008 session.

"There is a lot of time before we come back," Cagle said. "The governor owes it to the Legislature to articulate why he chose to veto as many projects as he did. ... (But) we don't need to go out and make threats."

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.