published Friday, April 1st, 2011

Ralston blasts Georgia Senate leadership rift

ATLANTA—A push to overhaul Georgia taxes descended into a Republican feud Thursday as House Speaker David Ralston said the state won’t be able to reach an agreement on a plan until the Senate figures out who’s in charge.

With the clock running out on the legislative session, tempers flared at the state Capitol as daylong closed-door negotiations failed to break the logjam.

Ralston blamed the power struggle in the Senate where an eight-member committee has stripped many of the powers from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

“I’m at a point where I think I need to say that they need to resolve their leadership issues and they need to do it quickly or the people of Georgia are going to be the ones that suffer,” Ralston told reporters late Thursday.

“I have tried this session to avoid meddling in the business of the Senate but we have come perilously close to their little experiment over there harming the people of Georgia.”

Legislators adjourned for spring break Thursday without reaching a deal and will return April 11 for the final three days of the legislative session. Ralston said that without the break, the tax bill would likely be dead.

He insisted Thursday that the plan was still “very much alive.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams and Majority Leader Chip Rogers through a spokeswoman declined to comment. Cagle had no immediate comment.

The power struggle flared anew in the Senate as an attempt to restore some of Cagle’s powers went down in defeat.

“The political roads are disturbed now. I understand the turmoil going on here,” state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said at a contentious committee hearing.

The tax bill, which passed a joint legislative committee Tuesday, would cut the personal income tax rate from 6 percent to 4.5 percent. But it also caps many itemized deductions, which means the overall personal income tax burden would remain the same.

Democrats — using non-partisan data — said many middle-class Georgians would pay more taxes under the plan and GOP leaders scrambled to rewrite the bill.

Some tea party activists and religious groups also opposed the plan.

The plan would remove the tax on energy in manufacturing. It would also slap a sales tax on automobile repair and maintenance, person-to-person sales of cars, boats or planes and telecommunications services, like cell phones and cable.

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