ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Sonny Perdue used his final State of the State speech on Wednesday to issue a call to arms to Georgia legislators grappling with the most severe budget meltdown since the Great Depression.
“This is our time to carry a heavy load, to do the hard thing now for the sake of our children and grandchildren,” Perdue told a joint session of the state Legislature.
Perdue said it’s time to buckle down and “reject the gluttonous instinct of this age” to ensure future generations aren’t saddled with crushing debt.
The speech evoked sacrifice and struggles throughout history from the Revolutionary Ear to the Great Depression. But it was short on specifics. With anxiety over the state budget mounting, Perdue broke with tradition and didn’t release his spending proposal on the same day as his address.
The Republican governor — his voice sometimes choking with emotion — urged state legislators to remember government’s role shielding the most vulnerable residents. He pledged additional state cash — more than $70 million over two years — to Georgia’s struggling mental health system, which is being monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We cannot retreat from our duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
Perdue is set to leave office when his second term expires at the end of the year.
He entered the governor’s mansion in 2003 facing a budget crisis and seems set to leave office slashing Georgia’s budget yet again. Tax revenues in Georgia have plunged for 13 consecutive months and it’s expected that legislators will have to slash another $1 billion or so from the budget.
Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said the governor’s spending plan would be released Friday.
Speaking for Georgia Democrats, state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond called for unity and teamwork to fix Georgia’s most pressing problems, especially unemployment.
“I would like to extend the hand of cooperation to join our great and dedicated Democratic leaders to help develop a comprehensive economic development plan,” Thurmond said.
Perdue received a warm reception from the packed chamber, which honored him with a resolution recognizing his “long and faithful” public service.
Perdue became visibly teary-eyed and his voice cracked as he thanked his wife, Mary, for standing by him for three decades.
He thanked legislators for indulging his as he took “this last lap around the track.”
Republicans praised Perdue after the speech.
“It was really a call to action to challenge each of the legislators to remember why we’re here,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a fellow Republican, said.
Associated Press Writer Errin Haines contributed to this report.