Halfway through session, the Senate and House have passed a Fiscal Year 2010 Amended budget that takes us to July 1 and has been reduced to $15.5 billion.
We’re operating on 23 percent less than we were in 2009, and still trying to provide the same level of government service to an ever-growing population.
If this isn’t bad enough, the FY11 numbers look even worse. The legislature has decided to recess for 10 days until March 8 to allow lawmakers and budget writers time to grapple with how to balance next year’s budget that could have a more than $1 billion gap.
Producing a balanced budget is our constitutional obligation, and with collapsing revenues, it’s going to be a tough job. This is the people’s money we’re spending, and we need to do it right. Our goal is to develop a spending plan that uses every dollar wisely and efficiently.
We are in the process of adjusting the FY11 budget back to 2005 revenue levels with about 600,000 more Georgians added to our population since then.
Due to previous cuts in the 2009 and 2010 budgets, our budget make-up consists of 57 percent education (K-12 and universities combined), 15 percent health services, 6 percent Department of Corrections, 3 percent for human services (DFCS, foster care, adoption assistance), and 11 percent for all other agencies. To say that we have some tough choices ahead is a colossal understatement.
Some suggest that raising taxes and fees is a simple and quick fix to adjusting revenues. This band-aid approach could not come at a worse time for hard-working families around the state already struggling to make due with less and businesses that are being forced to cut jobs and trim payroll.
Creating more jobs and getting people back to work remains our top priority. The best way to turn Georgia’s economy around is to cultivate the right environment for businesses to grow and expand, so people can get back to work.
The state budget is an important part of that climate, and must focus on less spending, lower taxes, providing business growth incentives and finding government efficiencies to spur economic development.
The national economy is beginning to show signs of stabilization, but we won’t begin to feel the relief in Georgia for a while.
Thousands of Georgians are still looking for work amid one of the most severe recessions our state has seen. Permanent job creation is the best catalyst for Georgia’s economic recovery.
That recovery also hinges on how we utilize public funds to operate the state. Part of the budgeting process is looking at every area of every agency to analyze where the best efficiencies can be found.
In that same vein, I’ve sponsored a bill that will help us look at state dollars spent on growing Georgia’s economy. Funding for economic development projects and programs is scattered throughout state government, and we need to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively to promote job creation and growth.
Senate Bill 374 creates a legislative oversight council to review all state funds and programs associated with economic development. The council will oversee the state’s overall economic development strategy and ensure that funds, policies, programs and regulation are aligned to maximize job creation and business growth.
Essentially, we’ll be able to keep our finger on the pulse of economic development throughout the state. There are currently at least five state entities that dispense dollars for economic development, including the Department of Economic Development, the Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Agriculture, One Georgia Authority and the University System of Georgia.
The council will undertake an annual review of the Department of Economic Development’s activities and expenditures, as well as all related economic development funds and programs in other departments and authorities, to see how they work together to advance the state’s overall strategic vision for economic development.
As we move through the budget process, we’ll continue to look for conservative solutions that grow our economy. I’m confident that we’ll produce a budget that aligns our efforts to promote job creation so that we can get Georgians back to work as quickly as possible.
Sen. Chip Pearson can be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at email@example.com.