I know I am "preaching to the choir" when I say December has been a busy month for my family. Christmas gatherings, community programs and events, finding the perfect gifts for loved ones - our calendar has certainly been full.
There won't be much of a break between the holidays and the 2013 legislative session for me, but I don't mind. I am humbled by your support in this year's election, and consider it an honor to represent Senate District 51. I'm looking forward to being your voice at the Gold Dome, and I'm excited to serve in a new role as the Secretary of the Senate Republican Caucus.
One of the first issues the Georgia General Assembly will need to tackle during the legislative session will be the state budget. This is a pretty complicated process that takes a lot of time, because we have to make sure all state operations are properly funded without overspending. And it's not just one budget to review-there are two.
First, we will need to revise the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. Like your household budget, the state has unexpected expenses from time to time and we will need to review and approve a new budget to keep the numbers balanced.
Second, we will need to approve the Fiscal Year 2014 General Budget. Because the FY 2014 budget is based on projections and also how the FY 2013 ends, it will also need to be revised the following year.
So where does our state stand financially?
Currently, Georgia is one of eight states with a Triple AAA bond rating; the highest bond rating available and a symbol of our state's fiscal responsibility. But we are looking at several factors that will require some hard decisions to be made in regards to our budget.
Our Revenue Shortfall Reserve-think of it as a "rainy day" fund-is currently sitting at $328 million.
Our state could operate for a maximum of seven or eight days with this money.
However, it's predicted that we will need to use $170 million from the "rainy day" fund for K-12 enrollment growth when we revise the FY 2013 budget.
Although the reason for having the reserve is so that we can dip into it for unexpected expenses, we can't take from it without figuring out how we are going to replenish what was used.
This is going to be a challenge, because needs in Medicaid, education, the state health benefits plan, higher education and retirement will likely use up any new state revenue for at least the next two years.
Gov. Nathan Deal has recommended some tough spending cuts to state agencies and Medicaid programs to try and bring in new revenue.
If the spending cuts are successful, they will generate $250 million for the FY 2013 Amended Budget and $300 million for the FY 2014 General Budget.
I wish that was the simple fix to our budget issues, but there are other unknown factors that will need to be addressed during budget talks.
Several agencies will not have the full amount of money needed to operate their programs, including Medicaid (short $400+ million), Education/Higher Education Enrollment Growth (short $150 - 200 million) and Retirement Systems (short $100 - 200 million). And to complicate matters further, we still don't know the financial impact of Obamacare and what will happen if our nation does in fact go over the "fiscal cliff."
Our work is certainly cut out for us this year at the State Capitol, and the 2013 legislative session will be a busy one.
To my younger constituents, don't forget that the General Senate offers a great look at the legislative process through our Senate Page Program.
Students 12 and over are able to serve as senate pages and deliver important information and messages to the senators while in the senate chamber.
If you're interested in this opportunity, contact my office at (404) 656-9221 as soon as possible.
Feel free to reach out and contact me with questions or concerns about the district anytime.
We have moved into a new office, so please note that we are now in room 421 of the State Capitol.
I look forward to serving you again in 2013.
Sen. Steve Gooch represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties.