Originally created 05/11/05

Perdue gives OK to budget



ATLANTA - A spending plan of more than $17 billion was one of several bills Gov. Sonny Perdue signed Tuesday, while he went light on the veto pen for both the budget and other legislation.

Mr. Perdue vetoed 15 bills, a figure he said was low when compared with previous years. The governor said his office worked to resolve major differences with authors early in the legislative process. In all, the governor looked over 443 bills and resolutions, according to his office.

Among the 16 budget items vetoed by Mr. Perdue, most were a handful of local projects that the governor worried would drive up the state's debt even as many bonds were still waiting to be issued.

Because of a computer problem at the Department of Community Health, auditors have been unable to close the state's books for the fiscal year that ended July 1, 2004. Until that's finished, all bonds authorized by the state will have to wait. Mr. Perdue said he hoped to have the problem fixed by this summer.

Mr. Perdue said he had already told legislators that he wouldn't have put so many projects in his budget had he been fully aware of all the problems.

"They took that and withdrew some of the recommendations I had, but then replaced them with some of the recommendations they had," Mr. Perdue said.

But the governor also said he tried to show some deference to legislative budget-writers, particularly House Republicans who are ruling their chamber for the first time since Reconstruction.

Mr. Perdue said he let most local projects stand in the budget, and his vetoes didn't necessarily indicate that he was judging the merit of those items he cut. But he said lawmakers needed to come up with a better way of funding their proposals.

"I believe there can be a better process about that other than what has gone on in the past," he said.

A policy for easing the "PeachCare lockout" was also under review, Mr. Perdue said. Currently, the Department of Community Health revokes the insurance of children who receive health care from the program for three months if their premiums aren't paid on time.

Under current policy, parents of the children who receive their insurance coverage from the PeachCare for Kids program pay premiums ranging from $10 to $35 per child, depending on family income, with a monthly cap of $70.

PeachCare is the joint federal and state health-care program for children whose family income is too high to qualify for Medicaid but not high enough to pay for private insurance.

Mr. Perdue said lawmakers didn't fully fund their solution, which would allow parents of PeachCare patients one late payment a year, gives them about 2 more weeks each month before the payment is due, and requires the department to use postmarks to decide whether a payment was on time.

Mr. Perdue reluctantly signed a bill affecting when teens can get their driver's license, saying he received a promise from the legislation's sponsor to revisit certain details the governor found troubling.

Joshua's Law, named after Joshua Brown, a Cartersville teen who died in a car wreck nearly two years ago, will require 16-year-olds to take driver-education classes if they want to get licensed before they turn 17.

The licensing changes do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2007, so that funding can be raised to pay for classes across the state. Money would be collected from private sources and by increasing fines for traffic violations by 5 percent.

Mr. Perdue said Tuesday that he was concerned the law creates an unfunded mandate and penalizes teens from poor or rural communities if they do not have access to free driver's education classes and cannot afford private driving schools.

He said he expects legislators to fix the law during their session next year.

Mr. Perdue also approved a law intended to protect cell phone privacy by making phone companies get permission before customers are included in a directory of wireless numbers.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 and Vicky Eckenrode (404) 589-8424.