In final day of final session, Nathan Deal ties up loose ends

Gov. Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal are greeted with a standing ovation as they enter the House where Deal addressed them for his last Sine Die.  Thursday was the 40th and final day of the 2018 General Assembly.    BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

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Gov. Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal are greeted with a standing ovation as they enter the House where Deal addressed them for his last Sine Die. Thursday was the 40th and final day of the 2018 General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Gov. Nathan Deal's final session in the state's top office started with some of his fiercest rivals praising him. One of his top allies introduced a measure to name a new judicial complex after him. And most of his initiatives have either already been adopted or could soon be.

Earlier this session, Deal seemed destined for a tougher Sine Die. The lame-duck Republican was maneuvered into signing a tax-cut measure without a lucrative incentive for Delta Air Lines that he made a priority. And there was fierce opposition to his last criminal justice package.

But he’s now embraced the income tax cuts as his own. His push to reduce or eliminate bail for some defendants who can’t afford to pay earned widespread legislative support. And he addressed the biggest flashpoint of his 2014 re-election with a surprise budget move.

“This session of the General Assembly will be marked as one of the more successful sessions in modern times,” Deal said in an interview. “I’m just proud I was here to be able to be part of it.”

For the term-limited governor, Thursday marked the final day of his final legislative session – unless he calls lawmakers back to the Capitol to hash out incentives for Amazon’s second headquarters or another debate.

“It’s in some ways a relief,” he said. “But in other ways, I’m going to miss it.”

Earlier this week, Deal stunned many politicians by announcing a rosier budget estimate allowed him to pump more than $160 million more into the state’s K-12 education formula - fully funding the system for the first time since 2002.

The debate over the decades-old school funding formula was at the center of his race for another term four years ago, and his decision brought accolades from Jason Carter – the Democratic nominee in that contest – and Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson.

“That is an accomplishment. That doesn’t mean the process is concluded,” said Deal, who called on his successor to take up his now-abandoned pledge to rewrite the outdated formula.

“I hope in future sessions, they’ll look at how that formula actually needs to be normalized,” he added. “But just putting the money in gives them a very good foundation upon which to make those reforms.”

The governor’s budget plan was adopted early Thursday, and his allies were optimistic that legislation for a statewide business court would survive the day. He also joined with House Speaker David Ralston to deter a Senate measure that would allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

Georgia corporate powers hope that stalled-out LGBTQ measure – which critics say is discriminatory – will send a message to Amazon and other firms scouting the state who were worried when lawmakers voted to strip out a jet fuel tax break after Delta cut ties with the National Rifle Association.

“They should look at it and say this is a state that’s a good place to do business,” said Deal, adding that it shows Georgia is “a state that puts our priorities in the right place, stresses the importance of the education of its citizens and its young people” and embraces income tax relief.

As the frenetic day began, word also spread under the Gold Dome about another Deal-related bill. This one, sponsored by Ralston, would name a judicial complex that is rising in the shadows of the Capitol complex in his honor. It's not likely to be adopted this year, but it could be on the fast-track in 2019.

“He’s been a good friend and a steady partner that has allowed all the things that have happened since I’ve been governor to occur,” Deal said of Ralston. “That’s a great honor, and I am deeply appreciative to him.”

The governor received rousing ovations from lawmakers from both parties in both chambers in his farewell speeches. But he might have gotten the loudest applause in the Senate with his closing line to legislators:

“If you can’t get re-elected on the things we did this year, you probably don’t need to be here in the first place.”

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