For the past six weeks, some of my fellow legislators and I have been preparing for the upcoming hard work on the amended 2010 budget.
I have kept you informed on the monthly shortfalls in revenue when comparing the 2010 budget with the 2009 budget. With this column I will bring you up to date as I understand the current budget situation.
Georgia’s 2009 budget decreased 8.7 percent from the 2008 budget. The governor told the departments to reduce their 2010 budget before it even went into effect. Additionally, it is projected to shrink another 8.3 percent by the amended budget.
To put it another way, the 2010 per-capita spending, adjusted for inflation, will likely be 20 percent lower than 2000. In fact, 2010 per-capita spending, unadjusted for inflation, about equals that of 2000.
The state budget has both dedicated funds and general funds. General funds are allocated among 50 state agencies and the three branches of state government. General funds account for 87 percent of the budget; the remainder are dedicated funds. Dedicated funds are comprised of Motor Fuel taxes, Tobacco Settlement, Lottery for education and Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund.
Now let us look at that 87 percent that we call the general fund and see who the users are. The department of education gets 46 percent.
Of this portion, 92 percent is distributed to systems and schools through the per-student QBE formula and Equalization formula with a small amount going to three state deaf and blind schools. The bulk pays for salaries at the school-level.
Ten of 50 agencies are allocated 95 percent of the General Budget:
• K-12 — 1.6 million students; 160,000 teachers;
• Regents — 300,000 students; 35 colleges and universities;
• Community health – including Medicaid, PeachCare, state health plan, county public health departments;
• Debt sinking fund - bond payments;
• Corrections — 54,000 inmates; 37 prisons;
• Behavioral health — including seven state-run mental health hospitals, Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities;
• Human services —including Child Welfare Services, TANF, Elder Services;
• Technical college system — 156,000 students; 86 campuses;
• Juvenile justice — serves 73,500 minors;
• Public safety — 806 state patrol officers;
The remaining 40 agencies plus the judicial and legislative branches account for 5 percent of the budget.
Our challenge will be to craft an amended 2010 budget with reductions greater than the amount of these 40 agencies combined — or 8.3 percent.
The 2009 budget closed out 8.7 percent smaller than the 2008 budget.
Since I am a member of the House Appropriations Committee (K-12 Education), I know much more about that portion of the budget and would like to share some information that I have been gathering. I am collecting information on a variety of indicators that demonstrate state expenses have increased in a number of areas that make the budgeting process even more challenging or problematic.
For example, how much has the starting state teacher salary increased since 2000? How much have state retirement expenses increased, per retiree, as a result of increased salaries and cost of living adjustments? Are a higher percentage of Georgians taking classes at state colleges and technical schools? (The answer is yes). What percentage of total revenue is “off limits” for other budgeting purposes? For example, 15 percent of the total budget is comprised of bonded debt payments and dedicated lottery and gasoline tax collections.
Please remember that these are statewide answers to the question on the change in teacher salaries:
• Teacher salaries increased 32 percent.
• Teacher salaries and benefits increased 40 percent.
• Inflation increased 27 percent.
• All Georgia industry salaries increased 25 percent.
• Teacher salaries rank first among 14 southeastern states.
• Teacher compensation ranks first nationally when adjusted for cost-of-living and pension contribution.
• Georgia devotes far more to education than a decade ago, primarily due to increased teacher salaries and benefits and smaller class sizes.
I am proud to report that Georgia teacher pay and benefits compare most favorably with the rest of the U.S. This remains true despite the economic downturn and difficult decisions regarding furloughs and raises. As we continue to compile revenue and spending data, I assure you that we will fulfill our budgetary obligations to the state, and we’ll do it with Georgians’ best interests at heart.
As we go through the difficult task of approving the amended 2010 budget and the 2011 budget during the upcoming legislative session, I’ll need to hear from you on a regular basis.
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; phone (706) 864-6589; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.