The leading Republican candidate for governor Wednesday criticized money-saving teacher furloughs and the way Gov. Sonny Perdue handled tri-state water negotiations.
Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, campaigning in Athens, said Perdue should have exempted teachers from the three-day furloughs he announced Tuesday.
Oxendine did not say specifically what he would cut to save the $300 million the state will save by not paying 100,000 teachers for three planning days, but he said he would have looked elsewhere in the budget for savings.
"When we are lagging the country in test scores and dropout rates, cutting education is probably not the best of ideas," he said.
Employers already are reluctant to locate in Georgia because schools have a bad reputation, and the furloughs only make it worse, he said.
Perdue already had cut $2.7 billion from the state budget when he announced $900 million in additional cuts Tuesday. Lawmakers have spared education compared to other areas, but tax revenue declined to the point that furloughing teachers was unavoidable, said Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Perdue.
"We searched for change in every couch cushion," Brantley said. "We looked for anything to cut, and we protected teachers through this whole thing."
Oxendine also said Georgia negotiators botched talks with Alabama and Florida over how much water Atlanta can take from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River. A federal judge ruled last week that Atlanta must drastically reduce the amount of water it draws from Lake Lanier in 2012 unless Congress changes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations.
"A lot of people at the state Capitol have been playing politics, and they've been running around beating their fists on the table, blaming our sister states for all of our problems, and bad-mouthing them and really goading them into suing us," Oxendine said. "Well, you don't challenge someone to take you to court and sue when the law is a little sketchy on your side."
A new reservoir should have been built in Athens, he said, because Athens-Clarke County's water system is even more vulnerable to drought than Atlanta's.
"We saw in the last drought how bad the water supply got here in Athens," he said, referring to a period in fall 2007 when the city had only enough water to last about two months.
Perdue broke off negotiations because he never got a fair deal from the neighboring states, Brantley said. The state also has ramped up reservoir construction, although some funding has been cut in the recession, he said.
More reservoirs aren't necessarily the answer, Athens-Clarke Mayor Heidi Davison said. State officials have held up Athens-Clarke County's water-use planning and conservation measures as an example to communities all over the state, she said.
Oxendine is considered a front-runner in the 2010 governor's race. Thirty-eight percent of Republican voters support Oxendine, according to a Strategic Visions poll released Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, is running second at 16 percent, three other candidates are in single digits, and 27 percent of voters polled were undecided.
A Democratic candidate for governor, David Poythress, also criticized the furloughs. Perdue should have eliminated his "Go Fish" boat-ramp program and tax breaks for special interests instead, Poythress said in a news release.