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“In rebuke to Perdue, House votes to override Gov.'s budget veto”
Infighting between Republicans erupted Friday as what was supposed to be the Legislature's final day transformed into a showdown between the House, Senate and Gov. Sonny Perdue.
In a day of fast-moving changes and short tempers, the House voted 163-5 to override Perdue's veto the night before of the midyear 2007 budget, raising the specter that lawmakers will be summoned back to Atlanta for a costly special session.
It was a rare move of defiance by the Republican-controlled House, whose leaders boasted the vote was the first time in modern history the chamber had voted to reverse a governor's veto of a spending plan. Yet the Senate seemed cool to the idea, setting up a possible standoff over the state's constitution.
State law requires the governor to transmit the veto to the House before they can vote to override it, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said the governor had yet to do so.
"The constitution is very clear," said Cagle, who presides over the Senate.
House Speaker Glenn Richardson chided the Senate for refusing to act, arguing that the constitution requires the Senate to vote immediately on an override.
"We're ready for the state Senate to step up as the constitution requires," said the Republican from Hiram.
As the two chambers battled over whether the override passed muster or not, a spokesman for Perdue poured fuel on the fire as he urged the House to get back to work on a budget that would meet with the governor's approval.
"Now that the House is done with their temper tantrum hopefully they can come back in and finish their homework," said Dan McLagan.
National figures have also chimed in. Dick Armey, the former majority leader of the U.S. House, sent a letter to Cagle urging him to support the House's move. "It is time to put taxpayers first," the letter read.
The stage was set Thursday night, when Perdue vetoed the supplemental spending plan and its $142 million one-time property tax break for Georgia homeowners. Perdue said the $700 million spending plan failed to fund critical state spending needs.
Perdue also criticized the tax cut, which was hastily patched together last week by state lawmakers to resolve a budget impasse. Perdue called it "a late night quick fix" that was bad for Georgians.
Perdue had been pushing his own tax cut for retirees for a dollar amount identical to the one agreed to by state lawmakers. That tax cut proposal, the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, was tabled by Republican leaders in the House this year.
Unless the chambers can agree to a budget fix before the day's end, Perdue will call a special session at a cost of about $45,000 a day. Also up in the air is a final agreement on the $20.2 billion state budget for fiscal year 2008, which begins July 21.
Amid the turmoil over the budget, the chambers also considered dozens of other bills. The House unanimously adopted a proposal that would create an umbilical blood cord bank for stem cell research and was set to debate another that would give private school vouchers to students with disabilities.
With members hustling in and out of the chamber _ requiring several of them to sprint for their desks multiple times to vote before a one-minute time limit ran out _ the Senate mowed through dozens of mostly minor bills as well.
Plans to permanently halt class-size reductions in public high schools and allow state vouchers for students with disabilities to attend private schools were still up in the air by mid-afternoons.
And House and Senate members deadlocked on a plan that would guarantee state-owned Jekyll Island will remain largely undeveloped _ meaning a final decision may not come until late at night.
The budget vetoed by Perdue also contained badly-needed cash to bailout the PeachCare health insurance program for poor children and public defenders.
Before the vote in the House, Republican leaders talked of the need for the legislative branch to flex its muscles in the face of a governor who is granted sweeping executive powers.
"We have to matter," said House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter. "If we don't matter, the people that sent us up here don't matter. And their voice in this building is diminished."
Democrats, eager to weaken Perdue, also supported the move.
"We have got to be able to participate in that process so are priorities are set in the budget," said DuBose Porter, the chamber's top Democrat. "And the only way to do that is by an independent House. The only way to do that is by being an independent House."
The move put the Republican-controlled House directly at odds with Perdue, a popular GOP governor who coasted to a second term in November. It's also another sign that Republicans, who gained complete control of the statehouse in 2005 for the first time in generations, are far from united.
Richardson said he understood the awkward stance he was asking fellow Republicans to take.
"I hurt right now that I'm going to ask you to do this, and I wish you had not been put in this position," said Richardson, the chamber's first Republican leader in generations. "But you have been, and you took an oath, and there's only one thing to do."