Gov. Sonny Perdue was a very talented athlete back in the day, whose favorite sport was football. He was good enough to be the starting quarterback on his high school team and was a walk-on freshman player at the University of Georgia.
In the decades since he put on pads and helmet, Perdue appears to have become more interested in another game called "kick the can."
Throughout his two terms as the state’s chief executive, Perdue has consistently declined to take any real leadership role toward resolving Georgia’s most pressing problems. He has preferred instead to kick the can down the road so that whoever replaces him as governor will have to deal with it.
This aspect of Perdue’s personality was in full display last week as the General Assembly convened at the Capitol for the 2010 regular session.
One of the most important things any governor does during the opening days of the legislature is deliver a "state of the state" address where he lays out his goals, releases his proposed budget, and suggests specific actions the General Assembly might take to handle the problems facing our state.
Not this year, however. Perdue treated his audience to the most boring, irrelevant speech ever given by any politician in Georgia’s esteemed history. At least 30 of the speech’s 32 minutes consisted of a tiresome recitation of platitudes you would find in any high school civics class. He mentioned only two policy proposals: spending some extra money on mental health services and basing teacher salaries on classroom performance.
When would this "pay for performance" plan actually be implemented? According to Perdue, that would happen in 2014, a full three years after he leaves office. Kick the can.
Nowhere in the speech did Perdue talk about such things as traffic congestion, water supply, or changes in ethics laws. Those are only three of the most urgent issues lawmakers will tackle this session.
The day after his speech, Perdue called in reporters to announce his proposal for addressing transportation problems. He said he supports the idea of dividing Georgia into 12 planning regions and allowing the voters in each district to decide if they want to impose a local sales tax to pay for highway projects.
When would these tax referendums be held? In 2012, more than a year after Perdue has turned over the governor’s office to someone else. Kick the can.
On Friday, Perdue finally released his budget proposal for the coming year. The worst recession since the 1930s has obviously reduced Georgia’s tax revenues and will force the governor and the legislature to cut the current budget by more than $1 billion. The budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 will also be crimped for the same reason.
Hidden within those numbers is some very bad news for public school systems. While Perdue said the education part of the budget will be reduced by only 3 percent, that still means the formula funding the state sends to local systems will be cut by $936 million in the current fiscal year and an additional $527 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.
That reduction in state funding for local systems has been the case during the entire Perdue administration, through good years and bad. When he leaves office next January, the combined total of those reductions in state education funding will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 billion.
In other words, Perdue is passing along to the next governor the job of doing something about a public education system where student performance still ranks Georgia among the bottom 10 percent of states. Kick the can.
Perdue said in his state of the state speech that "the only legacy I sought was the same one any parent or grandparent seeks — to hand off our state ... our home ... to the next generation in better shape than we found it."
I hate to disappoint the governor, but I don’t think that is going to be his legacy. Eight years of doing almost nothing has resulted only in the state’s problems piling up and getting worse.
If there is a defining legacy for the Perdue regime, it will be this: he saw the future of Georgia — and flinched.
Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.