Houston & Peach

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Perdue to Senate: Keep trying on hospital tax

Gov. Sonny Perdue and Speaker of the House David Ralston told the Senate on Friday to try again on its difficult hospital tax vote, which puts several hundred million dollars in doubt for the state budget.

The governor issued a statement Thursday night, calling out the Senate for splicing an insurance tax cut into his hospital “provider payment” late that evening. The Senate passed the merged tax increase/tax cut Thursday after backroom discussions that divided some Republicans from their leadership and left Democrats with nearly enough votes to hold the bill back, despite its promise of health-care funding for the poor.

Perdue said the Senate chose to “curry favor with a Washington, D.C., special interest group” — Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform group — by plotting the eventual end to the state insurance premium tax on health plans.

That change, pasted into the bill, would take effect when the state’s rainy day fund again reaches $500 million.

Ralston sent House Republicans an e-mail Friday, applauding the Senate for moving forward on the difficult bill but saying he would strike their amendments from it.

That means the House and Senate will have to go back to the negotiation table to see if they can hammer something out.

The tax on hospital revenues means some $217 million in new money for the state, and that would draw down hundreds of millions more from the federal government to fund the state’s Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

The House had already passed the bill, House Bill 307, but the Senate must agree for any change to move forward.

“This is not a time to make last-minute changes to major legislation by adopting proposals which have not had a thorough discussion,” Ralston wrote to legislators. “I look forward to working with the Governor and Senate to pass a responsible budget that includes fully vetted proposals while meeting the needs of Georgians in these difficult economic times.”

There was no immediate comment from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the Senate, or the chamber’s leadership team.

If the Senate has to vote on the bill again, they may be aided by the return of one member absent this week because of a death in his family. There also will be new pressure on two high-ranking Senate Republicans who voted against the measure — Mitch Seabaugh and Preston Smith. A third Republican senator, Judson Hill, did not vote.

State Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, a gubernatorial candidate, also voted against the measure, as did most Senate Democrats.

Darth Vader wants you

The U.S. Constitution and a couple hundred years of history may not be enough motivation for some people to mail back the U.S. census form. For those folks, there’s a stronger force in the universe.

Star Wars characters will mix with World War II vehicles and demilitarized weapons at an unusual “March to the Mailbox Event” promoting the census at the Nola Brantley Library in Warner Robins next Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.

More traditionally for civic events, but still unusual for census events, will be a host of hardware and people from area public safety agencies, including sheriff’s office vehicles, fire trucks, several SWAT-style teams and a mobile police command unit.

Chick-fil-A will sell lunch on site, and Robins Air Force Base vehicles also may make an appearance. And there’ll be plenty of free census items given away.

There’s no word on whether the World War II re-enactors, the military veterans or the Star Wars crowd will be the first to point out how many Sterlings, Brens, MG-34s, Lewis guns and other World War II weapons were used in the Star Wars films.

Jacob Cox, chairman of the Houston County 2010 Census Complete Count Committee, said when he saw the Star Wars characters at a Museum of Aviation event, he knew they’d be perfect for getting attention at the census event. We suspect he’s right.

Randall on Ellis: Zing!

That Jack Ellis sold used cars before becoming Macon’s mayor more than a decade ago has been good for an easy joke.

Thursday, near the end of a meeting local legislators held to discuss consolidation, state Rep. Nikki Randall hit one on the sweet spot.

The group was discussing the management form of a potential consolidated Macon-Bibb County government, an issue that separates the delegation.

Randall, D-Macon, said she prefers a strong city manager system, with fewer mayoral powers than Macon now allows.

Just about anything could happen, she said, “if somebody elected a used car salesman or something.”

It is perhaps worth noting that Randall’s brother, Lance Randall, ran against current Mayor Robert Reichert two years ago. Ellis won two terms as mayor, first in 1999 and again in 2003.

Wood speaking Tuesday

The Middle Georgia Republican Women will hear from former Middle Georgia U.S. Attorney and current state attorney general candidate Max Wood on Tuesday.

The dinner will be at Statham’s Landing, on Stathams Way in Warner Robins, according to an e-mail from the group.

Wood will be the guest speaker, and dinner is $13. RSVPs are requested to gfwrustin@bellsouth.net.

Wood is running against Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens in the Republican primary.

Telegraph writers Travis Fain and Mike Stucka contributed to this report.