Special session on hold amid ongoing gridlock

ATLANTA - Just how bad is the political gridlock at the Georgia state Capitol?

Bad enough that Republicans can't even agree on a date to iron out their disagreements. After vetoing the state budget, GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue had said he would set the dates for a special session by the end of last week. But that deadline has passed.

Now, nearly two weeks after the governor vetoed the budget, Republicans, who also control both houses of the Legislature, are still at odds, and Mr. Perdue has yet to even talk to his chief antagonist, House Speaker Glenn Richardson.

A six-member negotiating team of House and Senate lawmakers has been created to break the stalemate over the $142 million tax cut that was in the budget Mr. Perdue rejected. But they aren't meeting.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the Senate, has said he wants an agreement in place before all 236 lawmakers are summoned back to Atlanta for a five-day session. Clelia Davis, a spokeswoman for Mr. Richardson, said the House wasn't ready to negotiate formally until a date for the session had been set.

The ongoing standoff has some who are waiting for state money watching anxiously.

Public defenders and prosecutors may both have to furlough employees by the end of the month unless the cash comes through. Health care officials are poised to move money between programs to keep the cash-strapped PeachCare health insurance program for low-income children from going under. The budget Mr. Perdue vetoed contains an $81 million bailout for PeachCare.

School districts awaiting hefty checks from the state to make up for enrollment growth during the year may have to tap their reserves to stay afloat if the impasse drags on. Angela Palm, of the Georgia School Boards Association, said she hasn't heard of any doing so yet.

The budget Mr. Perdue vetoed covers the fiscal year that ends June 30. He said the budget did not meet critical state needs.

He also voiced concerns about the $142 million one-time property tax refund proposed by the House and agreed to by Senate leaders in the spending plan.

Mr. Perdue's own proposal for a $142 million retirement tax cut was tabled in the House this year.

The House voted overwhelmingly to override Mr. Perdue's veto, but the Senate did not follow suit, saying the House vote was invalid because the governor hadn't transmitted his veto.

He still hasn't, Ms. Davis said. That effectively prevents the House from voting again to override, then forcing the Senate to take the issue up. There are questions about what the Senate would do if it came up for a vote.

The veto touched off a bitter feud between Mr. Perdue and Mr. Richardson, his one-time floor leader. Just after the session ended, an irate Mr. Richardson reportedly accused the governor of showing his "backside."

The two haven't spoken since the session's end on April 20, Ms. Davis said.

Mr. Cagle has adopted the role of peacemaker, shuttling back and forth in an attempt to reach a deal. But the efforts have gone nowhere.

And neither warring party is letting any sense of urgency show.