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State budget continues to be the focus

POSTED: March 24, 2010 4:00 a.m.

Based on state revenues, Georgia’s government is 25 percent smaller than it was two and a half years ago. In order to meet the demands of our state’s growing population, we are finding ways to do more with less. To that end, the Budget Task Force released their recommendations to the Senate this week on new ways to cut state spending.

  

The Task Force is comprised of leaders in Georgia businesses who have been on the front lines responding to this economic downturn and understand the real-world value of new efficiencies and consolidation.

  

They recommended over $3 billion in potential savings, which are focused on long-term, structural changes to state government. Not all of the 50 options they presented will be feasible, but it’s clear that we must maintain Georgia’s AAA Bond Rating, which is a “good housekeeping” seal of approval on Georgia’s fiscal strength.  

  

These long-term solutions range from consolidating state agencies, to multiyear leases to controlling health care costs. The lieutenant governor and Senate leadership created the Budget Task Force at the beginning of session as another way to proactively take control of our budget situation.

  

Instead of passing increased debt to future generations, we are making the tough decision now and using every tool in the toolbox to meet this goal. This is the first step in a long process of additional research and legislation to fundamentally change state government.    

  

Work continues on the budget as state revenues continued to plummet for the 15th consecutive month in February, dropping nearly 10 percent from last year.  To account for this revenue drop, the governor lowered his revenue estimate by $342 million for the Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

  

This means that we must make further revisions before the Senate and House can agree on a final budget for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on June 30. Despite these revenue adjustments, we still must cut over $1 billion from the FY 2011 budget as well.   

  

Keeping Georgia financially solvent is our greatest challenge this year, but our greatest priority is to implement policies that benefit the people of this state.  The Senate voted in favor of my legislation to allow for the development of public private partnerships for reservoirs.

  

Meeting our state’s future water demand is crucial to Georgia’s economic development, and increasing water storage is the best way to do it.

  

Senate Bill 321 authorizes the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority Water Supply Division and local governments to enter into a water use agreement with the owner of any private reservoir. This bill will help expand water supply across the state at less expense to Georgia taxpayers. 

  

North Georgia’s racing culture could be enhanced under the Rules of the Road Bill (SB 345), which allows racing on county and city roads when sanctioned by the local governing authority.

  

This bill could revive the Burnt Mountain Hill Climb in Pickens County, with roots dating back to the 1950’s. A representative of the Sports Car Club of America has said this event could bring $80,000 to $100,000 to the local community over a three-day weekend event.

  

Gerry Nechvatal, community economic development director for the Pickens County Chamber of Commerce, has been instrumental in creating this legislation.

  

He said: “As we try to keep our communities and state financially sound, it is increasingly important to generate opportunities based on the resources currently available. Senate Bill 345 enables the utilization of existing infrastructure to create new and exciting events that will generate tourism-based economic development. The potential of events such as the re-establishment of the Pickens County Burnt Mountain Hill Climb is perhaps best demonstrated by the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This world-renown ‘celebration of the automobile’ had very humble beginnings also in the1950’s when it was held in conjunction with the Pebble Beach Road Race and had only two or three-dozen cars participating. Now, it attracts the finest cars, the top celebrities, and helps power the local economy in addition to raising over $13 million for various charities, including the Boys and Girls Club.”

  

The Senate also overwhelmingly voted in favor of a life-saving ban on texting while driving.

  

SB 360 will prohibit the use of a mobile phone for writing, sending or reading a text-based message while operating a motor vehicle.

  

The bill makes texting while driving illegal for all Georgia drivers: both teenagers and adults.

  

The bill is named in honor of Caleb Sorohan, an 18-year-old from Dahlonega, who died nine days before Christmas after his car crossed the centerline of a rural Morgan County road and ran into a truck carrying horses. It was determined that he had been texting while driving.

  

This is an important measure to prevent needless wrecks and deaths that can occur when drivers text from behind the wheel.

  

Sen. Chip Pearson serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties. He can be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at chip.pearson@senate.ga.gov.

 

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