By Dave Williams
ATLANTA - For the first time since Jimmy Carter was Georgia's governor, the General Assembly has overridden a gubernatorial veto.
The Senate voted 47-7 Monday to override Gov. Sonny Perdue's veto of a bill recognizing in state law the existence of separate House and Senate budget offices.
The House, where the legislation originated, already had voted overwhelmingly to override the veto, one of a dozen overrides House members approved two weeks ago on the opening day of this year's session.
"We respect the office of the governor," Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the Senate's presiding officer, said after Monday's vote. "[But] the Senate agreed it was important that the language in this bill reflect the role the Senate Budget Office plays in providing valuable assistance to the Senate throughout the budget process."
Monday marked the first time the Senate has sided with the House in a power struggle with Perdue that erupted last April on the next-to-last day of the 2007 session.
Prompted by a disagreement over tax policy, the governor vetoed a mid-year budget approved by the General Assembly that contained a $142 million property tax cut.
House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who had spearheaded the proposal, responded by leading the House to override the budget veto early on the session's last day. However, the attempt died when the Senate refused to consider the override.
Hostilities between Perdue and Richardson (R-Hiram) resumed more than a month later when the governor vetoed 41 other bills lawmakers had passed - an unusually high number - including the 12 that became the subject of this month's overrides.
In and of itself, the bill that was the subject of Monday's override was minor.
The Senate established a separate budget office five years ago after Republicans had gained control of the upper chamber while the House still was in Democratic hands. It replaced a budget office that had worked for both legislative chambers.
However, a section of state law has continued to refer to the "Legislative Budget Office," even though it no longer exists.
"We've been split up ... and it's worked out well," said Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. "[But] it needs to be codified by law."
Perdue said he met with Senate Republicans prior to Monday's vote and explained
the reasons he vetoed the bill.
"I understand the anxiety of the Senate in wanting that bill passed," he said. "It was
technically flawed in some of the language that they used ... and I find that the best
time to perfect that kind of legislation is on the front end."
The governor called the veto technical in nature and not a policy disagreement.
"I want to thank them for the way they have handled this," he said.
The bill was introduced into the House last year by Rep. Richard Royal (R-Camilla).
Richardson sharply criticized the Senate two weeks ago for not taking up the House overrides immediately.
He was still tossing barbs on Monday, even after senators voted to go along with the House on the budget office bill.
"This was a little self-serving of them," Richardson told his House colleagues minutes after the Senate vote. "It is interesting that the only [override] they took up affected them. ... Maybe they'll consider the other 11, as the constitution requires."
But Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson said there's no overestimating the historical significance of even one veto override.
"This is the first general bill to ever be overridden by the General Assembly," said Johnson (R-Savannah). "Several local bills were overridden during the Carter administration. Vetoes are rare, and overriding them is - and should be - even rarer."
In his veto message last spring, the governor complained that the bill failed to change several other terms in that section of state law that also were antiquated.
Johnson said Monday that those terms could be dealt with in future legislation.
The 11 other veto overrides approved by the House still rest in Balfour's committee.
He didn't give a timetable on Monday for when, or if, those would be taken up by the Rules panel.