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ASK THE EXPERTS

Georgia’s doing better than most states during these tough times

POSTED: March 17, 2010 4:00 a.m.

When we are looking at all the red ink in the FY 2010 Budget, it is very difficult to find ways of dispensing hope. In spite of the difficulties, I’ll try my best.

  

I remember the first time I heard the expression, “misery loves company.” My grandfather later explained that was only partially true.  He said: “Misery loves company who is also miserable,” commenting that when a person is miserable, he does not want to be around others who are having a good time. 

  

If someone is more miserable than you are, then you don’t feel nearly as bad.

So let us look at some areas of the country more miserable than we are.

  

Last Wednesday, the Kansas City school board voted to shut down 29 of 61 schools at the end of this school year. This would eliminate 700 jobs, including 285 teachers.

  

Teachers at six other low-performing schools will have to reapply for their jobs. 

  

The district is seeking to erase a projected $50 million budget shortfall.

  

New York has a $7.4 billion deficit in a $121 billion budget. Taxes and fees will go up on movie tickets, taxi rides, soda, beer, wine, cigars and music downloads.

  

It is already one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation. New York has a high amount of government spending. It spends 33 percent more per capita than the U.S. average. Georgia ranks 48, well below the national average.

  

Illinois faces $83 billion in unfunded public pension liabilities. The problem has been fueled by the state’s habit of underfunding its pension obligations.

  

A new law requires they be 90 percent funded by 2045. Understandably, state employees are worried, and so are taxpayers. Georgia’s employee pensions are all funded above 90 percent. Prior to this recession, the Teachers Retirement System was funded at 103 percent. It is one of the oldest and best-funded pensions in the nation.

  

Revenue shortfall and budget discussions continued to be major topics at the capitol this past week. Revenue for February was down 10 percent ($62 million). For the year, the shortfall is 12.7 percent ($1.35 billion) and we still have four months to go.

  

Eventually the FY 2011 Budget will be about $17.5 billion with $14 billion in State General Funds. This is the same as the FY 2005 Budget. If it is adjusted for a per capita basis, we are looking at the FY 2000 level. Adjusting for population growth and inflation, the budget looks like the mid 1990s.

  

The main reason we are in such a state of shock is the rapid decline in revenue. Remember that the original FY 2009 Budget was for just over $21 billion with our Revenue Shortfall Reserve (RSR), also known as the Rainy Day Fund, at $1.6 billion.

  

That fund has fallen to less than $104 million. So, in addition to all the budget cuts, we have used $1.5 billion of the RSR and a billion in federal stimulus money to prop up the FY 2009 and FY 2010 Budgets. Those do not exist for either of the upcoming budget years.

  

Your state government is getting leaner.

  

In the past 18 months, 5,000 positions have been eliminated and more cuts are expected. 

  

Sometime this year, lottery expenditures will exceed receipts. There are more HOPE scholars, more HOPE grants at technical colleges, and tuitions are rising.

  

Your state leaders have fiscally managed through budget reductions and done so without raising taxes. Georgia retains its AAA bond rating. 

  

During these tough economic times, I’ve tried to give you straight facts on our fiscal challenges and how we are handling them. To do otherwise and give you blue sky would be dishonest. 

  

I still need to hear from you before we vote on the FY 2011 Budget and other bills of interest. I will be at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega for Saturday breakfast with constituents at 8 a.m. on March 20 and 27. On April 3 at 8:30 a.m., I will be at Ryan’s Steakhouse (Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400) in Dawson County for Saturday breakfast.

  

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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