Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Who's the True Conservative? the Just-Ended General Assembly Session Left Enough Blame to Spread

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Who's the True Conservative? the Just-Ended General Assembly Session Left Enough Blame to Spread

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - The fall legislative campaigns began in earnest at midnight Friday, when the 2008 General Assembly session ended without passing most of the major bills Republican leaders proposed.

The dead-bill list includes transportation funding, vouchers for students in chronically failing schools, and a trauma-care funding source - particularly timely as victims of a Savannah sugar-mill explosion remain in an Augusta burn hospital. Topping the GOP list, though, was some type of tax relief.

A year ago, House Speaker Glenn Richardson began selling a conservative touchstone: Repeal of all property taxes with an encore to repeal income taxes. His plan kept shrinking before he finally put to the House a measure to repeal school property taxes, only to lose in his own chamber.

He succeeded in winning House approval of a constitutional amendment to end the car-tag tax and limiting property assessments to the inflation rate, considerably less dramatic than his first designs.

SOMETHING TO CAMPAIGN FOR, AGAINST

The Senate countered with a bill to trim the income tax 10 percent over five years, an idea it backed away from during last-minute negotiations and instead offered phasing in some car-tag exemptions over five years.

Then there were Gov. Sonny Perdue's two tax cuts, eliminating the quarter mill the state levies on property and exempting senior citizens' earnings from income taxes, both smaller than the House plan.

Sometimes, campaigning on a failed tax cut can be more productive than on one that actually passed.

If it had passed, legislators looking for re-election might have had trouble presenting a follow-up, but now they can ask to be sent back to Atlanta to finish the job.

A dead tax cut also offers a villain to blame, someone to run against.

Richardson, a Hiram Republican, offered up his Senate counterpart and party member, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

"I hope Georgians by the 9 million will thank him tomorrow and flood him with e-mails and tell him we're sick of Casey Cagle," Richardson said Friday night. "It's time to get a new lieutenant governor."

CUTTING FUNDS, NOT EXPENSES

For his part, the lieutenant governor wasn't apologizing, telling reporters he'd been in enough fights in the past not to be spooked by a little name calling.

Cagle described his stance as one based on fiscal conservatism. Every tax cut should be matched with spending reductions, he said, and Richardson's scheme to have the state essentially pay the car tax to individual counties rather than the automobile owners wouldn't directly link the tax cut to spending. Indeed, House leaders said all along they could afford their plan because rising state revenues would pay for it.

"If we're going to cut taxes, the best way, you have to demonstrate where those expenses are going to be cut as well," Cagle said. …

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