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Perdue warns lawmakers of hard calls ahead
Governor, in last State of the State address, calls for culture of conservation
Gov. Sonny Perdue, center, delivers his State of the State address Wednesday to a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly as House Speaker, David Ralston, left, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle look on in the state Capitol in Atlanta. - photo by John Bazemore

In his final State of the State address, Gov. Sonny Perdue urged state lawmakers to make painful cuts to the state budget now so that tomorrow’s Georgia may prosper.

"I believe I stand with most Georgians when I say I am for doing with a little less if it means a lighter burden and a brighter future for the next generation," he said.

Perdue, whose second and final term as governor ends this year, addressed a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday in a speech that was part history lesson, part motivational speech and one that focused very little on a specific plan for legislators as they sit down to carve more than $1.5 billion in spending out of the state’s budget.

But the state’s governor did say that in order to successfully balance the state’s budget, they would have to choose progress over partisanship.

"Georgians didn’t elect us to see a rugby match with a scrum on every decision," Perdue said. "When we don’t work together, our jerseys get so muddy, the people can’t even distinguish which team we’re on, and we all come out with mud on our face."

And as lawmakers sit down with a budget hit hard by the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, Perdue called for changes to the way the state pays its teachers and addressed the need for a "culture of conservation" in Georgia.

More than ever this session, Perdue said state lawmakers will have to drill down every facet of the state government to "redefine our responsibilities and communities going forward."

"Going forward, we must forgo the excesses of our time and reject the gluttonous instinct of this age," Perdue said. "...These times demand that we worry less about bringing home the pork, and more about empowering our people to grow their own hogs."

Despite all the downsizing that will inevitably occur this legislative session, the governor said the state must continue to fund the state’s mental health institutions. He told lawmakers that the budget he will release Friday will include a $70 million investment in the state’s mental health system over the next two years, which is being monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"We cannot retreat from our duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves," Perdue said. "I am convinced that Georgia can, Georgia must and Georgia will adequately care for citizens in our state’s mental health program even though this has been a daunting challenge that precedes my time as governor."

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he thought the funding plan for the state’s mental health institutions was "excellent."

"We haven’t done enough for that particular population as we need to," Rogers said.

Although different than in previous years, Rogers said Perdue’s speech was meant to prepare state lawmakers for the difficult decisions they will have to make in the coming days.

But Rogers and state Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, were still unsure about the governor’s plan to tie the pay raises for teachers to student performance.

Rogers said he assumed there would be push back from teachers. Both he and Hawkins said they did not know enough about Perdue’s plan to form an opinion.

"It looks plausible, but I’m going to listen to my teachers, too," Hawkins said.

State Reps. Doug Collins and James Mills did not return phone calls seeking comment by press time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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