Former Gov. Sonny Perdue told members of the Johns Creek Chamber Young Professionals that the “water wars” were an effort by Alabama and Florida to divert business from Georgia at the group's monthly gathering held Thursday at the Standard Club.
Perdue said it would be more accurate to call the water wars an “economic development war.” He said Alabama wanted newspapers to run headlines like “Atlanta Running Out of Water.” If Metro Atlanta could not draw on Lake Lanier for drinking water, it would force businesses to look elsewhere.
Perdue compared the situation to a Western movie. Alabama and Florida’s desire to keep Lake Lanier from being used for drinking water was like a man building a dam on his own property to stop the flow of water onto the land of another. Then, when the second man’s land dries up, the first man can buy it cheaply and then restore the flow of water.
In particular, Perdue said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and himself were on the verge of signing an agreement when Riley came under pressure from Alabama Power and others in the state.
Perdue took other questions from his audience. Dave Ciarochi asked Perdue about the hardest, most difficult decisions he made as governor. Perdue compared being governor to a tennis commercial where a machine shot balls at a player at increasing speeds. He was faced with a multitude of decisions and had to focus on the most important ones.
The first of these governmental tennis balls was the budget. In five of the eight budgets he presented to the legislature, there was less revenue than the year before. Perdue’s time as governor began with the recession of the early 2000s and ended with the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007-2008. In all of Georgia’s history, two years in a row of declining revenue had occurred only twice. Meanwhile, there were other problems like droughts and the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the state’s energy supply.
“We had to make some tough budgeting decisions in a balanced-budget state,” he said.
Since education represented 55 to 57 percent of the state budget, cuts had to come from there. Meanwhile, health care grew eight to 12 percent each year. In government, revenue can be flat while expenses grow.
Marcus Myers asked whether politicians were following the American public in becoming polarized. Perdue said they were. In particular, he said the 2012 Congress is becoming known as the “Do-Nothing Congress” because they’re not willing to compromise. He attributed this to fear of being challenged in primaries by some “yo-yo” who accuses them of compromising.
Perdue said there were some areas of conviction that he would not compromise on. He has a duty to let people know these are his convictions so they can vote him out if they don’t like them. He cited his own longstanding opposition to Sunday alcohol sales, developed after seeing higher DUI death rates in states where it’s permitted.
“I told young professionals they needed to have better time management,” he said, referring to advice he gave on buying alcohol for Sunday drinking on Saturday.
However, 80 to 90 percent of politics aren’t conviction-based. To deal with political polarization, Perdue suggested “blind redistricting” rather than creating safe Republican or Democratic districts.
David Pope said many states are taking responsibility for their own fate, but the federal government is out of control. Are the states doing anything to force Washington’s hand?
“Well, there’s the 10th Amendment that we’ve kind of forgotten,” Perdue said.
The Founding Fathers feared an overly powerful central government and granted it only limited powers. However, over the years the federal government has taken more powers, including in the area of education. And this has come at a cost — a $16 trillion national debt. The window is closing rapidly on how the county can deal with this.
“Do we want to be an Argentina that tells all of our bondholders, ‘Sorry, you made a bad investment’?” Perdue asked.
He wondered if modern Americans were willing to sacrifice like the World War II generation did to build a great nation.