Governor vetoes Clayton County legislation

By Justin Boron

At the request of almost the entire Clayton County Board of Commissioners, Gov. Sonny Perdue Tuesday vetoed all the bills passed by the local delegation that would have given raises to several state officials in the county, some of whom have only spent four months in office.

The governor's decision on the bills raised questions in local lawmakers and county officials over who should have had the final say in the local legislation - the lawmakers who passed the bills or the county government, which bears the financial brunt of them.

The General Assembly could override the veto, but Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, said it was unlikely because a Republican-led Legislature would be hesitant to vote against the Republican governor.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, along with a commission majority, asked the governor to block the legislation because the county could not shoulder the $102,741 in extra salary and benifits the bills would bring.

Shane Hix, a spokesman for Perdue, said the governor's office researches each piece of local legislation to determine whether there is cooperation between the legislators and the local governing bodies, like the county commission.

Most of the about 180 local bills coming out this year's General Assembly got past the governor's desk. Clayton County's did not.

Out of the 15 vetos announced Tuesday nine were local legislation. Seven of those local bills belonged to Clayton County.

In a statement, Perdue said, "This bill will have a significant budgetary impact on the county for which the county commission is unprepared to bear the financial burden."

The vetos are some semblance of relief, Bell said, amid mounting litigation costs related to the Sheriff's Office and a bill signed by Perdue to limit the amount of fuel sales tax the county can collect from Delta Air Lines.

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, chairwoman of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation, said state officials, including county judicial circuit, solicitor, tax commissioner, and sheriff deserved the pay increases and Bell's petition to the governor was an insult.

Seay also criticized Bell for adding positions, like a driver, within his own staff.

"It shows he has no ownership or leadership and does not care about Clayton County," she said.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph, who was the only comissioner not to sign the letter, said the county commission needed to stay within its bounds and avoid a fight with the local legislative delegation.

"Everybody needs to stay in their own lanes," he said.

Ralph also said the veto campaign should have been waged for House Bill 341.

"I thought the priority should have been getting the government to veto the Delta fuel sales tax bill," he said.

Seay agreed.

"(HB 341), that's where (Bell) should've been cashing in the favor," she said.

Buckner said she supported many of the raises but it was just an inopportune time to ask for them.

"The county has been impacted in some serious ways over the past five months . . . with financial issues that we could not foresee," she said. "It just turned out not to be a good time for pay raises."

Bell said his actions came down to an issue of home rule in which state legislators shouldn't be able to impact the county budget.

"They're managing my local budget," he said.