Two Columbia County lawmakers showed last week that, in politics, its possible to have it both ways.
Veteran state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, and freshman state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, wound up on opposite sides of the vote in which Georgias midyear budget was approved.
Each is convinced he made the right vote, and each has an explanation for why his decision was the prudent one.
As they say in the NFL, you make the call.
The states supplemental budget - as opposed to the big budget, which is used to run all state departments - is set up to make corrections where needed at mid-year. Its been badly abused in the past, providing a huge trough from which lawmakers could feed state funds to happy voters back home.
This year the budget is tight, however - so tight that Gov. Sonny Perdue wants to raise taxes on liquor and cigarettes to pay for it. So the mid-year budget that passed last week 151-23 is $94 million short of having enough revenue to pay for all the spending in it.
So where does the extra money come from?
Fleming, who voted in favor of the budget, says adamantly that he opposes Perdues tax increases. But even with the shortfall, the supplemental budget was fiscally conservative, and deserved passage.
Fleming says he plans to vote against the tax bills when they come up in the House. That would force the budget shortfall to come from the states rainy day fund, thus averting a tax increase.
Thats all well and good, says Harbin - the only Augusta-area representative to vote against the budget. But the mid-year budget still isnt balanced, and theres no guarantee the tax hikes wont pass.
If they do, the new taxes will pay for the shortfall - and the rainy-day fund wont be tapped, even though Georgias current economic climate certainly qualifies as bad financial weather. Excuse the expression, Harbin deadpans, but its raining like hell.
Naturally, some pundits are portraying passage of the unbalanced mid-year budget as a call for tax hikes. But thats where Fleming and Harbin agree: The governor may have gotten a feather in his fiscal cap by passing his first budget, but hes in for a plucking if he expects local lawmakers to vote for higher taxes.
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