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Perdue expected to stick with a modest agenda
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ATLANTA -- If Gov. Sonny Perdue's agenda for the new year sounds familiar it should.
He'll be pushing some of the same initiatives in 2008 that he tried, and failed, to get through in 2007.

Key among them is a tax break for wealthier retirees, which the governor had made the centerpiece of his successful 2006 re-election bid. His proposal to boost fines on so-called super speeders will be brought back to life as part of a compromise plan to bail out the state's network of trauma centers.

The details of Perdue's wish list will be revealed this week as the state Legislature returns for its 2008 session. The governor will take the wraps off his state budget proposal on Wednesday, the same day he'll offer his annual State of the State address before a joint session of the House and Senate.

Last year, Perdue slammed into gridlock in the Georgia legislature, even though it's controlled by fellow Republicans. A feud over competing tax cuts came to dominate the 40-day session.

Perdue received money for his "Go Fish" tourism program and most of the funds he had wanted for land conservation money.

But his $142 million retirement tax cut was tabled in the House. His constitutional amendment to protect lottery funds for the HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten failed to pass. So did another amendment that would make it clear that faith-based organizations may accept public funds. And a plan he pushed to streamline hospital regulations also went nowhere.

A lame duck with three years left in his second term, Perdue has a diminishing store of political capital, political experts said. Especially as the jockeying intensifies to replace him.

Perdue declined an interview request from The Associated Press. Aides instead made the governor available, together with the legislative leaders, at a series of news conferences throughout the state last week.

At one of those appearances, Perdue hinted that his budget plan would include "a few surprise tax cut recommendations" but he stopped short of offering specifics.

He will seek $20 million to help small businesses offer health insurance coverage for their employees. The voluntary proposal could help insure some 34,000 people, or 2 percent of the state's 1.7 million uninsured residents.

On the drought, Perdue has said he will lobby for passage of the state water plan. His budget will contain money for reservoirs and conservation. But don't look for Perdue to be pushing for lots of drought legislation.

"I don't view every problem in our state needing a legislative solution and I know that's what sometimes we look for," Perdue said at a news conference in December.

The governor was referring to the state's water woes. But he could just as easily have been talking about his philosophy of government in general. Perdue prides himself on running the state like chief executive officer. In his view, that means less is often more.

The businessman from Bonaire isn't fan of splashy new government programs. His minimalist style stands in stark contrast to the activist roles his Democratic predecessors have played. Roy Barnes tried to overhaul the state's education system. Before him, Zell Miller rocked the state's political landscape by pushing through the lottery.

But Perdue's most important role may be as the state's fiscal chief. And it is there where his impact may be the most apparent. His first years in office were spent in economic freefall as the state plunged into the red. Georgia now has the largest reserve in its history, topping $1.5 billion.

"The governor is a true fiscal conservative," House Speaker Glenn Richardson said. "He has done a really good job of keeping us between the digits."

In true CEO fashion, Perdue has also been able to accomplish much without ever consulting the legislative branch.

His administration has gone global, recruiting a Chinese manufacturing company, Sany Heavy Industry Co. Ltd., to open its North American base in Georgia. South Korea-based Kia Motors Corp. is coming to West Georgia.

And Perdue is moving forward with plans to outsource the state's massive computer infrastructure after revealing candidly last month that the aging system "isn't working." The shift is expected to save money but will also result in pink slips for some 200 state workers. Perdue said he believes it will be the most ambitious outsourcing of services in state history.

But after last year's very public spat with Richardson and House Republicans, all eyes will be watching to see how the top GOP officials are getting along. Perdue's statewide tour last week with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House leaders sought to project a united front on a host of important issues like transportation, education and the drought, without revealing that deep divisions remain on some of them when it comes down to the details.

And despite the smiling photo ops, members of the House GOP leadership have signaled that they may come back this week and immediately attempt to override Perdue's budget vetoes of spending they had approved last spring. If that happens, all bets are off.

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