A feud is born in the Senate

Feuds are important things at the state Capitol, so it is often necessary to note when and how they arise.

In the aftermath of the 2015 session of the General Assembly, state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, has posted an usually harsh criticism of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. We have seen such things ricochet around the House – witness state Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan, and his Facebook entries.

But in the Senate, such polemics have been rare. Until now. On an unofficial website, Heath titles his treatise “Chicago” – a slur usually reserved for Democrats. He begins with some raw, unpolished fiction:

"We need to raise taxes," said The Leader, a sly grin curling across his face. "We just have to, but we have to do it in a way where the regular schmucks out there won't know it or understand it."

Read the entire thing here. But eventually, Heath gets down to his version of the facts surrounding final Senate passage of HB 170, the transportation funding bill, as midnight approached last March 31:

When I rose on the Senate floor and pointed out that Georgia law and the Senate's rules clearly prohibit a vote on this legislation because of the lack of an official fiscal note, the angry Lt. Governor glared at me, said he disagreed with me, and proceeded with this farce.

When challenged again, he produced an undated report from the University of West Georgia about possible costs of some of these proposals. Not a fiscal note from the State Auditor on the specific legislation as required by law. A college paper? Really?

Fortunately for Heath, his District 31 doesn’t include the West Georgia campus. More seriously, take a look at the video above, which is the exchange described by Heath. If Cagle was angry, he hid it well. The camera recorded no angry glares between the two players – just some rather flat dialogue.

The situation was this: The House had formulated its version of HB 170, with the required fiscal note. The Senate had passed its version of the same bill with its required fiscal note. The compromise came late, with a new element – a $5-per-night tax on hotel rooms across the state.

Cagle’s office was asked this morning to respond to Heath’s angry post, and declined. But allow us to supply the answer that the lieutenant governor might have given for those West Georgia statistics handed to senators: The hour was late, time was short, and he provided his chamber the best information that he could on the most important bill of the session.

Here’s the last bit of the Heath/Cagle exchange that night:

Cagle: I’m not articulating to the Senate that this is a fiscal note from the Department of Audits. It’s clear that it’s not on the Department of Audit’s letterhead. You clearly see where it’s from. But as a matter of information – and we have used this department of economics at the University of West Georgia on numerous occasions, and which we have found them to be very reputable.

But this is only for information purposes. My ruling is that this is an adequate fiscal note that has been traveling with the bill all along. And that’s my ruling.

Heath: May I – [One suspects the senator was attempting an appeal.]

Cagle: No, you can’t. That’s my ruling, and that’s where we are.

The Senate then passed HB 170. Heath and several other Republicans, as expected, voted against it.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.