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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

'Eggs and Issues' breakfast with Perdue, Cagle, Richardson

click to enlarge BUDGET BUDDIES Richardson and Perdue at this morning's legislative breakfast.
  • BUDGET BUDDIES Richardson and Perdue at this morning's legislative breakfast.

Tuesday morning, Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and state House Speaker Glenn Richardson, speaking before a banquet room filled with business heavies, lobbyists and fellow lawmakers, outlined their legislative agendas for the session at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual "Eggs and Issues" breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center.

There, over plates of eggs, sausage, and some hashbrown-stuffed tomato concoction, the elected officials said that, even with the state nearly $2 billion in the red, progress would take place.

After the jump, what Perdue, Cagle and Richardson said, in fancy bulletpoint style, about the upcoming legislative session.

BUDGET: Perdue joked that the chamber should've changed the name of the event to "Eggs and Issue," a nod to how the deficit seems to be all anyone is focused. After all, Georgia's nearly $2-billion deficit will determine what — if anything — lawmakers can accomplish this year. Perdue's scheduled to present his budget proposal to lawmakers tomorrow in his State of the State address at 10 a.m. Cagle, who's announced he's running for governor in 2010, has obviously been reading his handy pocketguide of notable quotations. The permagrinning lieutenant governor channeled former President John F. Kennedy and said that the Chinese letter for crisis contained two brushstrokes: one for danger, one for opportunity. He said the budget conundrum gives lawmakers a chance to propose the most efficient level of government possible.

TRANSPORTATION: One of the the state's issues that everyone agrees is a mindblowing problem is also the most up in the air. That's not a good sign. Perdue told the crowd that he wouldn't support a proposal until it showed that it could pay a "dividend" — in other words, it needed to be results-based. Cagle pushed the one-cent regional sales tax proposal that nearly passed last session, but ultimately failed by three votes in the Senate. Richardson wants a statewide plan, he says, because transportation is a statewide issue. For the lieutenant governor, it was all about the roads. Not once during Cagle's address did he mention "rail." Richardson mentioned light-rail in the suburbs, which sounds cool, but would never work. (Gotta have the density, folks.) He proposed the idea of truck routes that bypass Atlanta as well.

TRAUMA: Richardson said when people call 911 after they've been in an accident, they expect someone to help them. The state isn't doing that right now, he said. The speaker said he doesn't care what the funding source is — be it a quarter on your phone bill, a $10 tax on your car tag, or something else. "It is time we figured out what the funding source is."

EDUCATION: This was arguably Perdue's biggest topic of the morning. Last year in Georgia, he said, more than 75 percent of high school students graduated, up from 63 percent in 2002. Perdue said he'll be pushing for $10,000 incentive pay raises for high-school principals who consistently improve student achievement. He says he'll also introduce legislation crafted for teachers who do the same. (No mention about elementary school principals who help children in their formative years.) The governor also said he didn't want to repeat the Clayton County School Board fiasco and wanted the state to have the authority to appoint local community members to boards should they fall into chaos. "I have sat in the governor's chair and watched the fallout from a dysfunctional school board undermine earnest teachers and their students," Perdue said. "It's heart wrenching. Never again do I intend for the state to be handcuffed by our current law and powerless to help students who are being failed by the adults in their community." Richardson said he'll support the re-introduction of the BRIDGE program, a technical and adult education track that would help high school students learn a skill if they weren't deadset on the college route.

TORT REFORM: This one could be interesting. Perdue said he wants to enhance Georgia's pro-business image and "cement [our] position as a leader in the biotech industry" by exempting manufacturers of FDA-approved products from tort lawsuits. Basically, companies with a "significant presence" in Georgia won't be subject to product liability claims in the state if the FDA approved the product. The other bill: "Relief" — or as it's known in some parts, "attorney's fees" — if a claim against a litigant is dismissed at the earliest possible stage of the legal process. If the attorney in the case doesn't notify his or her client of the law, that attorney is responsible for the damages.

TAXES: The Speaker still hates property taxes — "they're the most regressive tax around," he said — but Richardson admitted that the GREAT Plan, his ambitious scheme last session to eliminate that nemesis, was a harder fight than he anticipated. He'll be easing off the issue but supporting State Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Buckhead, who has his own legislation to freeze property tax assessments.

DROUGHT: Perdue said the state's conservation efforts have "exceeded expectations." (Yeah, and in Atlanta, the sprinkler ban and low-flow toilets have increased water bills. Success!) He said last year's passage of the controversial statewide water plan would ensure future generations an adequate water supply. Cagle said water "will be the major issue for the next decade" and was disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal on Monday to hear the "water wars" case between Georgia, Florida and Alabama. "I find it unacceptable for bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. to dictate to us how to manage our [water supply.]" That's the sentence with the most teeth the lieutenant governor uttered all morning.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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