Perdue veto leaves many holes to fill

Metro Atlanta hit hard: Elementary school foreign language program to fold, and cuts take toll on campus, library projects.

This story originally ran on June 1, 2007 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's veto of $130 million in proposed spending left schools,  state agencies and other organizations scrambling Thursday to figure out how they'll fill holes in their budgets.

Elementary school foreign language programs will be shut down. College building projects will be delayed,  and technical school students may have to pay higher tuition or fees.

The Golf Hall of Fame may have to close its botanical gardens,  and several high-profile civic projects will move ahead without multimillion-dollar grants and tax breaks.

The vetoes fell hard on metro Atlanta schools,  libraries and other projects,  which will do without about $90 million in funding and tax breaks.

The situation was grim for schools with state-supported foreign language classes,  a majority of which are in metro Atlanta. Perdue has been trying for several years to kill the program,  which operates in a few dozen schools. Wednesday,  he took away the $1.59 million budgeted for the foreign language program.

"This means our program,  after being in place for 10 years,  will be terminated, " said Corinne Barnes,  a curriculum coordinator in the Douglas County School System. She said about 400 children at Lithia Springs Elementary School won't be able to continue French classes.

Linda Steindorf,  a parent whose children have taken Japanese at Mimosa Elementary School in Roswell,  wrote a letter to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution criticizing the governor's decision to end the language program.

"Repeatedly,  Perdue has spent the money to bring business to Georgia,  even $19 million on fishing tourism, " she wrote. "When will he stop being shortsighted and make the investment in creating an educated work force with our greatest natural resource: our children?"

Perdue,  in his veto message,  argued that the more-than-a-decade-old program helped children in only 29 schools. Instead of funding teachers for those schools,  he wants to send each elementary school in the state $1,200 to buy foreign language materials.

The program had a strong backer in House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin (R-Evans),  who has been at odds with Perdue over the governor's decision to veto a property tax rebate proposed by lawmakers.

Perdue vetoed all the funding for another of Harbin's pet projects,  the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. Before Perdue's action,  Hall officials said they would have to close their botanical gardens without state funding.

Bryan Persons,  chairman of the Golf Hall of Fame's board,  said his organization was "tremendously disappointed" by Perdue's veto.

Several colleges and schools lost funding as well. Perdue vetoed $8 million meant to build a charter school in Cobb County. Funding such construction,  he said,  could have set a "costly precedent."

Several technical college projects were nixed,  and the governor redirected $7 million lawmakers had hoped would go to help campuses facing cutbacks because of declining enrollment. Earlier in the year,  technical college officials said they would have to cut staff if the extra money didn't come through.

On Thursday,  Mike Light,  spokesman for the technical school system,  said,  "How this is going to affect us,  it's too early to tell." Layoffs,  he said,  aren't likely. Tuition increases are an option,  but Light said no decisions have been made.

The governor also vetoed $5 million for renovations at Georgia Tech and $1 million to help Georgia State's Physical Education Building meet Americans With Disabilities Act standards.

Funding for libraries in Douglas and Rockdale counties was scratched by Perdue.

He killed $40 million for projects along the Peachtree corridor in Atlanta. That veto will make it tougher for business groups in downtown,  Midtown and Buckhead to pay for street and sidewalk improvements,  including a big-budget overhaul of Peachtree Road near Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza.

Business leaders said they'd find other ways of making up the money. Scotty Greene,  president of the Buckhead Community Improvement District,  said officials in the governor's office told him Perdue backed the projects but didn't want the state to borrow money to pay for them.

"The ultimate steward of the state's debt and management is our governor,  and he has made a judgment call, " Greene said.

Three major construction projects --- the Georgia Aquarium expansion,  the Encore Park amphitheater in Alpharetta and the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre --- lost out on about $20 million in tax breaks and grants when the governor vetoed several bills and spending projects.

Those measures were backed by prominent House members,  including Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter (R-Alpharetta) and Rules Chairman Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs).

Dave Santucci,  the aquarium's director of public relations,  said the governor's veto of a construction materials tax break won't stall expansion plans.

"What we'll do is reapply for the tax exemption [next session], " he said.

Joe Bankoff,  president and CEO of Woodruff Arts Center,  was surprised the governor tossed out a sales tax break for construction of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's proposed amphitheater in Alpharetta.

"My understanding was that this had all been discussed pretty much in advance and everyone was in agreement that this was a good thing for the economy up there as well as for the arts, " said Bankoff,  whose organization is preparing to build the amphitheater for the orchestra.

Staff writers Mark Davis and Paul Donsky contributed to this article.

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