The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gov. Nathan Deal on Friday vetoed a bill that could have eliminated state agencies, calling it redundant and costly, but his move angered tea party activists and disappointed some lawmakers who have long sought the measure.
House Bill 456 would have created a “sunset” for agencies as recommended by a 14-member joint committee of the General Assembly.
In his veto message, Deal said the bill would cost between $3 million and $7 million to implement and “is not an effective use of state resources.”
Lawmakers, legislative staff and the Department of Audits already evaluate state programs, he said. Also, he signed into law Senate Bill 33, the so-called zero-based budgeting bill, which requires state programs and agencies be reviewed over the next 10 years to evaluate spending and performance.
But that message did not satisfy the sunset bill’s supporters.
“I’m very disappointed,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Charlice Byrd, R-Woodstock, said.
Byrd said the governor’s concerns about cost are misguided, because the state would save $27 for every $1 spent by eliminating agencies.
“It’s kind of silly,” she said.
Tea party leaders were less understanding.
“I think it’s going to hurt his relationship with conservatives, absolutely,” Debbie Dooley, a co-organizer of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, said. “This is something that could come back and haunt him in 2014. This is something activists are not going to forget.”
Byrd has been sponsoring sunset bills for seven years and had believed this would be the year it finally became law. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed a similar bill in 2010.
“It seems like common sense to me, to get rid of duplications and everyone having a review,” Byrd said. “It’s all about accountability, which everyone wants these days.”
Byrd was pleased that Deal has signed the zero-based budgeting bill, but said the two go hand in hand.
Still, Byrd does not expect lawmakers to try to override Deal’s veto when they return in 2013.
“It’s all about for the betterment of Georgia,” she said. “You take your hits and you move on.”
Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said Friday the veto would not affect the good working relationship that Republican leaders had with Deal.
“This governor has been very accommodating toward this Legislature,” said Williams, who was happy the governor signed the zero-based budgeting bill. “We have our opinions about things, and we don’t always expect him to agree.”
The smooth relationship Deal and GOP lawmakers have developed over the past two legislative sessions is a major change from the conflicts between House and Senate leaders and Perdue.
Dooley, of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, accused Deal of violating a campaign promise to support the sunset bill. But Brian Robinson, the governor’s chief spokesman, said his boss would support a sunset bill in a different format.
The bill, as passed, Robinson said, “expands government by creating an expensive new committee” and said it’s “unfunded mandate because the Legislature failed to budget money to pay its costs.”
The bill’s goal will be met by the zero-based budgeting process, he said, and noted the governor had concerns about its constitutionality “because it’s legislative encroachment on a clearly executive duty.”
Robinson said Deal’s conservative credentials — and accomplishments — are beyond question.
“Gov. Deal has reduced the size of government, reduced the number of state employees, implemented zero-based budgeting — and used those savings to give Georgians a tax cut,” Robinson said. “That’s what he ran on and that’s what he’s done. Promises kept.”
Under HB 456, the sunset committee would have been charged with recommending whether agencies be abolished if the panel found their work redundant, inefficient or not needed.
The bill would not have applied to constitutionally created agencies such as the state Education Department or to agencies that received no state funding, although the committee could have made recommendations that affected them.
The General Assembly would still have had to vote on how to dissolve agencies before they could actually have closed.
Opponents of HB 456 — including some Republicans — worried the bill could allow lawmakers to overstep their powers and questioned why it was needed, since the state’s annual budgeting process is meant to give lawmakers similar insight. Deal signaled earlier this year that he would not support it.
Some Democrats also had voiced concerns that it could put politically unpopular programs at risk.
However, the bill’s backers in the Senate said they would try again.
“We’re disappointed, but we’ll continue working to try to make sure government is as efficient as possible,” said Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, who sponsored a Senate version of the bill and supported the House measure. “I believe the governor has a goal to make sure government is going to operate efficiently. Perhaps next session, we can try to have a bill that addresses some of his concerns.”
Deal vetoed five other bills on Friday:
- Senate Bill 38: Would have taken power away from the state school board and given it to the state schools superintendent by making him the sole authority to hire and fire department employees. Vetoed because Deal said the board needs to have checks and balances.
- House Bill 181: Would have excused some families with special needs children from a current mandate of sending their child to a public school for one year in order to receive a voucher to attend a private school. Vetoed because of an amendment that would have reduced the monetary amount awarded to families to cover tuition.
- Senate Bill 470: Would have changed the state’s patient self-referral law, which prohibits health care providers from referring patients to other entities in which they have a financial stake. Vetoed because it only benefited Baldwin County.
- House Bill 1051: Would have, along with House Bill 1052, reconstituted MARTA’s board and eased funding restrictions on the metro transit agency. Vetoed because lawmakers did not pass HB 1052, making HB 1051 moot.
- House Bill 1117: Would have kept mandate that Fulton County hold bond debt elections on the date of the November general election. Vetoed because of an unrelated amendment that would have exempted public hospitals from investing public funds in institutions that offer FDIC or related guarantees.