Perdue is away at crunch time

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ATLANTA --- In an administration full of firsts, Gov. Sonny Perdue's trip to China not only represents Delta Air Lines' inaugural flight to Shanghai but also the first time in memory when the governor wasn't present for critical negotiations on the budget.

It's unusual for the governor to be out of his office -- much less out of the state -- when the General Assembly enters its crunch days. Many contentious issues always wind down to the final hours of the session as their supporters try to beat the 40-day deadline.

As a result, not only the headliner bills get squeezed under before the final curtain falls but also dozens of lesser bills come up for a vote. Chaos can be an asset to operatives wanting to sneak controversial provisions through when scrutiny is less.

Add to all of that the tensions that build around the single most-important bill in any session, the budget. A $21 billion spending plan includes many individual line items to be negotiated, and the authority to not only shape policy but to change outcomes by putting in place the financing to make things happen.

Usually, governors are intimately involved in the last-minute negotiations on the budget. Though he might not literally have a seat at the table, his floor leaders and staff will be present while relaying messages and getting instructions from his office on the Capitol's second floor.

So it's interesting to many legislative insiders that Mr. Perdue will be away from the action.

It makes sense for him to be on that first flight. He helped lobby for Delta to get awarded the Shanghai route because of what it could mean to a state with the world's busiest airport and the East Coast's fastest growing seaport in Savannah, fueled in a major way by Chinese imports.

Three Chinese companies have already announced plans to build plants in Georgia, all since the state began setting up a formal trade office there, which the governor will officially open during his trip.

Mr. Perdue would naturally like to snag another giant plant for the state's mega-site in Pooler, the one that DaimlerChrysler declined, to bookend the $1 billion factory on the other end of the state that Kia Motors is constructing. A little good news would be welcome as the domestic economy slows.

As ideal as the economic timing is for Mr. Perdue's trade mission, it is equally dicey politically.

That's especially true because the House and Senate are poised to pass several measures he opposes, from tax cuts to Sunday alcohol sales to a tax increase for transportation.

He has already made known his position, in a departure from past years when he declined to comment on bills he didn't propose for fear of coming across as meddling before legislators had had a chance to do their work. Last week, he even took the rare step of meeting personally with the Senate Republicans to try to talk them out of a tax cut.

With the House and Senate on a collision course over the budget, his personal presence might avert a messy showdown like the one that erupted last year when his solution was a veto during a news conference and the House's override the next day.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.


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