The coming election-year Legislature is determined to tamper with our taxes. As a result, a constitutional crisis looms in the Capitol over who controls the state’s purse strings, revenue sources and the very workings of Georgia government.
We haven’t seen such battle lines drawn in the Statehouse since three Democrats - Herman Talmadge, M. E. Thompson and Ellis Arnall - claimed in 1947 to be governor at the same time. Or since the Legislature elected Atlanta segregationist Lester Maddox governor in 1966 to preserve Democratic control of state government. Georgia made international headlines in both instances. The Peach State may be ripe for another media circus.
Republicans are now in the driver’s seat at the Gold Dome, yet they are playing the same old Democratic games. Just as it was after Maddox’s election, the Georgia House could be on its way to becoming the dominant power on Capitol Square.
House Speaker Glenn Richardson is determined to fill the leadership void created by the public stillness of Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Temporarily putting aside his real estate portfolio and bass rod, Perdue has indicated he is ready to fight it out with Richardson, formerly the governor’s House floor leader and close ally.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is trying to avoid becoming collateral damage, though he hints that he has a better idea than raising the sales tax and turning most of the proceeds over to Richardson. Casey would like to lower or abolish the income tax. Hey, that sounds like a swell idea, even a solid plank in a platform for governor.
Two preliminary bouts are expected to erupt before the main event over Richardson’s trickle-down tax bill starts in January.
First, a heavy-hitter team of GOP lawmakers, many of them supporting Richardson, has already threatened state agency managers with cutting off their funds if they disobey the edicts of the speaker and his buds.
In a stern missive to the tax-paid straw bosses, the legislators wrote:
"You should be aware that any expenditure conflicting with the intent of the appropriation jeopardizes our confidence in your ability to act as a proper steward of public funds. In writing the 2008 amended budget, we reserve the option of reducing or eliminating funding for your agency by that amount."
The hot-tempered Richardson has already phoned at least one well-known agency chief and threatened him for following the governor’s orders instead of the speaker’s.
Second, when the 2008 legislative session opens, Richardson and his allies are expected to mount an unprecedented bid to override Perdue’s 2007 veto of a $140 million property-tax cut. Blood is bound to be spilled. No knives or broken beer bottles will be allowed in the House.
Then comes the main event: Richardson will propose a referendum to abolish property taxes, increase statewide sales taxes and let the Legislature decide on appropriations for many local government functions. In other words, county commissioners, school board members and mayors would lose much of their cherished powers of taxing and spending. If Richardson succeeds with this proposal against a horde of local government lobbyists, we will change immediately his honorary title from "Romeo of the Rotunda" to "Houdini of the House."
Regardless of the outcome, state governance in the hands of Republicans has not developed as promised.
The Athens Banner-Herald noted in a recent editorial:
"A majority of Georgia voters will be left scratching their heads over how a Legislature dominated by the party they thought would bring some order to government has managed to create such disorder in connection with the basic governmental function of establishing a spending plan for the state. And from there, they just might wonder whether the GOP establishment deserves to retain its hold on the Statehouse."
Or as Speaker Richardson put it in a recent address to the LaGrange Rotary Club:
"This idea might make some of you think I’m crazy."
Tut, tut, Romeo. That never occurred to us.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.