Georgia budget problems unsolved

ATLANTA, April 22 (UPI) -- The end of the 2003 session of the Georgia General Assembly is near and no solution to the state's budget crisis is in sight.

Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue wants to raise tobacco taxes and so do Democratic leaders, but the GOP-dominated Senate hasn't budged.


Perdue's $178 million increase in the tobacco tax passed the House last week, but after the 33-day deadline for passing in at least one chamber.

That means it will take a two-thirds vote in the Senate to take it up. The Senate has taken no action, turning its attention on Tuesday to 80 other bills, including the volatile state flag issue.

But the only bill the General Assembly has to pass by law is the $16 billion budget, and it is expected to get done.

The session's last day is Thursday, but that could be stretched until Friday when the budget could be dealt with. There also is gloomy talk about a special session beginning Monday.

"The only question is whether we come back here Monday," Senate Republican Majority Leader Tom Price told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. "And nobody wants to come back here."


If the tobacco tax fails, $178 million in programs would have to be cut. Perdue has already given up on a number of other tax proposals.

The governor abandoned plans early in the session to roll back homestead tax exemptions, a move started by his predecessor, former Gov. Roy Barnes. He scrapped another plan to raise liquor taxes a few weeks later.

Then the tobacco tax increase made it to the House floor, but it was rejected by both parties in a one-sided vote.

Democratic leaders who run the House gave it another try Thursday and this time it passed by one vote.

But that produced the problem with the 33-day deadline. In any event the measure must move through a conference committee of the two chambers, and with a Republican Senate and a Democratic House, that won't be easy.

The flag debate is over whether to return to the old flag, which contained the Confederate battle flag. If it passes, it would undergo a referendum.

But if the Senate votes to change the legislation in any way, it would go back to House and an uncertain fate.

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