Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Perdue Feels Early Heat over Agenda; with Many Needs in Georgia, the Fight over Funds Seems Perpetual

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Perdue Feels Early Heat over Agenda; with Many Needs in Georgia, the Fight over Funds Seems Perpetual

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - In a posting for his legislative blog, Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson noted last week that Gov. Sonny Perdue has done things differently than his predecessors when it comes to the State of the State address.

"This is when we finally see how he proposes to spend $21 billion and what is his agenda," Johnson wrote. "We used to get a State of the State [agenda] and a State of the Budget speech. Thankfully, Sonny has rolled them into one."

Whatever the merits of combining the two speeches, it might have seemed more appropriate this year than in the past. Most of the items Perdue highlighted in his spending plan for the year were already listed among the marquee items expected to be considered by the General Assembly this year, from perennial favorites like education and health care to new challenges on water and transportation.

"I think that he looked at the major issues and addressed them," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville.

But critics are already reprising a seemingly annual attack on Perdue's commitment to school funding, and some of those who received new money from the governor's budget are saying that what he set aside is not enough, or merely a start.

Hill left a little room for adjusting the budget but indicated that the governor's recommendation would be largely unscathed.

"The final numbers might change," he said.

Here's a look at some of the issues:

TRANSPORTATION

To cover problems with transportation, the governor ordered a restructuring of some state agencies and created a Transportation Infrastructure Bank "to give local governments low-interest loans to complete essential transportation projects." That plan is slated to cost $50 million.

Perdue also proposed more money for local roads, pumping spending up to a level his office said had not been seen since 1998-99.

Some lawmakers, though, are still likely to push for new sales tax options to raise money for roads, something Perdue has said should come only after the state can see how much restructuring will save.

Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing for more public transportation spending and asking sharp questions about why the transportation agency lost track of its workload in the first place.

"How can our Department of Transportation lose $5 billion and not know how many projects it has?" asked Rep. Kathy Ashe, D-Atlanta, who gave her party's official response to the governor's speech.

WATER

Praising the water policy that would soon pass through the General Assembly, the governor said: "I am proud to say that I am committed to its full funding," then proposed spending $11 million in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, to shoulder some of the planning costs that will follow. …

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