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Perdue, legislative leaders tout unified agenda

ATLANTA - Republicans will focus on transportation, education, water and health care during the General Assembly session that begins next week, Gov. Sonny Perdue said Wednesday after a tour of the state with GOP legislative leaders.

"Those are the main things that are on people's minds in Georgia," the governor told reporters at the Capitol after he, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Majority Leader Jerry Keen returned from a plane trip to Augusta, Savannah, Albany and Brunswick. Perdue, Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson are due to continue the pre-session swing on Thursday, with stops in Macon, Columbus, Cartersville and Gainesville.Richardson, R-Hiram, couldn't make Wednesday's trip because of a commitment at his law practice.

The fly-around was the Republican leaders' way of showing a common front heading into the 2008 session, not a given in light of the feud between Perdue and Richardson that erupted late in last year's session and continued to percolate during the rest of 2007.

The governor and speaker continue to disagree most significantly over tax policy, with Richardson pushing a plan to do away with most school property taxes and Perdue preferring to cut taxes for upper-income retirees.

"We have a unified agenda," said Cagle, who has stayed out of the dispute between the other two leaders.

Indeed, the three endorsed a series of common priorities for the upcoming session, including legislative approval of a statewide water management plan, making further progress toward increasing Georgia's high school graduation rate and funding a statewide trauma care network.

Part of the initiative's $80 million to $90 million cost would go toward the trauma care center at financially struggling Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia's largest public hospital.

"Trauma care centers are not profit centers," said Keen, R-St. Simons Island. "We need as a state to partner with our health care facilities to do that."

The three leaders aren't expected to agree on the specifics of how to address each of the needs they talked about on Wednesday.

The governor said he would continue pushing his bill increasing fines for "super speeders" as a way to pay for the trauma care network.

Richardson is calling for funding the system with a new vehicle registration fee.

Perdue and Cagle talked enthusiastically of the willingness of the state's new transportation commissioner, Gena Abraham, to overhaul the agency's bureaucracy in order to deliver needed highway improvements sooner.

But the governor said he would be reluctant to approve a major infusion of new tax money for transportation, as a legislative study committee has been considering, until Abraham completes her task.

"I want to see us get our act together before I see us burdening people with more taxes," Perdue said.