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ASK THE EXPERTS

Balancing the budget not easy

POSTED: March 3, 2010 4:00 a.m.

Trying to come up with a balanced budget for FY 2011 that requires another $1.2 billion cut is like riding on the back of a tiger. One slip and you are lunch for the tiger. 

  

For the past 10 days, I and other members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, have been embroiled in analyzing the Governor’s proposed FY 2011 Budget and trying to reduce the total by about $1.2 billion. 

  

This has involved cutting whole programs, combining programs, reducing employees, furloughing workers, etc., in an attempt to balance the budget.

  

Every cut affects someone I know.

  

Why is budget cutting so difficult? Some of you say: “Cut out the waste” or “Cut the fat.”

  

If DOT doesn’t have the money to buy gravel and asphalt, then we don’t need the people. That is the same approach we are taking when we look at other programs. Many are wonderful programs, and we are trying to save what we can.

  

The House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on K-12 Education have worked with DOE so that discussions involve all parties concerned.

  

Even with the cuts made to the FY 2010 Amended Budget, we are still talking about $7 billion, which is 44 percent of discretionary spending of proposed state funds for K-12 education. What we are doing affects about 1.6 million students and 160,000 teachers.

  

The 2010 budget was 11 percent less than the 2009 budget, unadjusted for inflation or population. The proposed 2011 budget includes a 12 percent reduction to the QBE formula, which funds education on a per-student basis. 

  

Let’s look at what this reduction means:

  

• Each 1 percent reduction to the QBE per-student funding formula equals $70 million.

  

• The 12 percent reduction to QBE is equal in dollars to 10 teacher workdays, plus 12 school days (22 days total)

  

• One furlough day for all state employees, including a non-instructional day for all teachers, equals $45 million.

  

While the education subcommittee looks at the largest portion of the budget, other subcommittees are worrying over their cuts as well.

  

The subcommittee on health is looking at 14 percent of the budget or $2.2 billion.

  

This is the Community Health portion, which includes Medicaid, PeachCare, state health benefit plan and county public health departments.

  

The Governor has proposed to offset much of their cuts with a 1.6 percent tax on hospitals and managed care providers to generate a net $274 million for state Medicaid expenditures. There is not much support for that tax in the House.

  

In addition to the programs mentioned above, the subcommittee on health is challenged with an $800 million budget for the seven state-run mental health hospitals.

  

The third largest portion of the budget is for higher education. That subcommittee is reviewing 12 percent of the budget or $1.9 billion, which is distributed among 35 colleges and universities teaching 300,000 students. 

  

Technical colleges account for another $320 million, 65 colleges and 160,000 students.

  

The Speaker has said that everything is on the table for consideration, including tax and fee increases.

  

All of us in the House and Senate are trying to balance this budget without any tax increases. God willing, we’ll pull off a miracle and not fall off the tiger’s back.    

  

I was pleasantly surprised recently when my Dawson County friend Joe Hirsch nominated me for the Legislative Literacy Honor Roll.

  

I was even more surprised when I was accepted. My late father-in-law, who taught at North Georgia College, considered me a middle-Georgia farm boy who had some trouble with the English language.

  

Joe’s nomination said I have “a passion for raising the level of literacy in Georgia.”

  

Joe, thank you for this honor — to be one of 10 legislators named for the inaugural event. My father-in-law would have been proud.

  

I will be at Ryan’s Steakhouse (Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400) in Dawson County for Saturday morning breakfast with constituents on March 6 at 8:30 a.m.

  

I will be at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, March 13 and 20.

  

As we get deeper into the session, I will let you know the rest of the Saturday breakfast schedule.

  

Let me know your ideas for solving our budget challenges.

  

Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30334; (404) 657-8534; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail amos.amerson@house.ga.gov. Or, contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.

 

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