Wednesday, March 29, 2006
By James Salzer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/28/06 12:43 PM
In a show reminiscent of some of the old battles of Democratic leaders, Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson and GOP counterpart and Senate President Pro-tem Eric Johnson took turns publicly denouncing each other over a budget impasse that has the two chambers snarling at each other.
Lawmakers are set to adjourn the 2006 session on Thursday, and as of this morning, budget negotiators had made no headway toward agreeing to an $18.6 billion spending plan that must be approved before they go home.
A quick-tempered Richardson (R-Hiram), took to the well this morning and accused Johnson of trying to trade an agreement on the budget for Senate consideration of a House leadership-sponsored bill that would make it easier for Atlanta Gas Light to build a pipeline and charge ratepayers.
“I told him, hell no,” said Richardson. “I am not going to continue playing games with the budget. We are not going to trade bills for votes.”
Richardson said Senators want to insert language in the budget telling the judiciary how to spend money, a violation of judicial independence, he argued.
“This dispute is about a power play and about putting power over politics,” he said.
However, by telling House members about the AGL offer, Richardson broke legislative taboo against relaying private conversations.
Johnson (R-Savannah), reacted angrily, although he didn’t dispute Richardson’s characterization of the offer. He criticized the speaker for saying it was a mistake to allow the Senate to have its own budget office that, sometimes, works against the wishes of the House.
Johnson said, “There is an arrogance across the aisle in thinking the Senate should not have a seat at the (budget) table.
“We are down to hours of maybe getting out of here without a budget.”
Such threats, and arguments, are common over the budget. However, a few things make it different this time.
First, this is the first time the Republican leaders have publicly gone into the well to personally chastise each other. While Richardson and Johnson have had disagreements, they’ve generally aired them privately.
Also, this debate isn’t really about big items in the budget. Both sides agree to 7 percent raises for prison guards and patrolmen, 4 percent for teachers and most state employees, record education spending and $1 billion to build schools and roads.
And thirdly, it’s extremely late to not have started work on the differences between the two bodies over the budget. Budgets generally take a few weeks of negotiating. When House and Senate negotiators got together shortly before noon, they had 60 hours left to get their work done before the end of the session.
As of early this afternoon, leaders of the two chambers were considering proposals to break the impasse, and finally meeting in public.