The Georgia Constitution requires that the House of Representatives appropriate money for an annual budget to operate the functions of the State. That is the main reason we have an annual legislative session. This year the economy has declined so quickly, that projection of future revenues is like hunting rabbits in a briar patch. The target keeps moving, while the thorns keep grabbing you. When it’s over, you are bleeding and covered in scratches.
Last week, the Georgia House of Representatives passed House Bill 119, the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget bill. This budget totals $18.6 billion and funds the operation of the state government, its departments, boards, bureaus, commissions, institutions and other agencies. It also funds Georgia’s university system, technical colleges, K-12 schools, all other governmental activities, projects and undertakings authorized by law. This budget will direct funding for the state from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010.
The current economic downturn resulted in decreased funding to meet our state’s needs. This required the House to cut the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget by about $2.6 billion, a 12.3 percent reduction from the original 2009 Budget.
Currently, revenues collected from Georgia taxpayers are down $3.1 billion or 15.5 percent over 2008 state revenues.
The House 2010 Budget also recognizes $1.4 billion in funds from the federal stimulus package. These federal funds allowed us to combat our budget shortfall and restore some programs that might otherwise be eliminated or significantly reduced. Among the organizations supported by these stimulus funds are the Department of Education, Department of Community Health, Department of Human Resources and public safety agencies.
Although federal stimulus funds and money from the state’s reserve fund have helped mitigate the effects of the revenue shortfall, some state programs and services will be significantly reduced.
These cuts were not taken lightly, and were only put in place after considerable study. Just as every Georgia family feels the effects of the economic down turn, state government does as well. No agency escaped scrutiny, and they are all facing some level of reduction.
Unlike the federal bailout program for banks and the automobile manufacturers, which led to the payment of large bonuses to high paid executives, the House budget does not contain any pay raises.
Due to the magnitude of the downturn in revenue, it is inevitable that expenditures for education be included as a part of the reduced spending. That is the bad news. The good news is that while most agencies took at least a 10 percent cut, education was limited to 3 percent. The budget passed by the House does not shorten the school year, reduce the school week, nor reduce teacher-planning days.
Despite the cuts, the House is devoting a higher percentage of the budget to K-12 education. In fact, education spending accounts for 46 percent of the House 2010 Budget. This is an even higher percentage than in years past. With the help of the stimulus package, the House fully funded school nurses to ensure that our children have access to health care while attending class.
Funding the state’s health care system was aided by the addition of over $450 million from the Federal Medical Assistance Program. These funds, along with $200 million from the federal stimulus package, allowed us to fully fund Medicaid programs. Medicaid provider rates will also remain at the current level for this fiscal year as well.
The House budget conservatively applies federal funding to existing programs.
While these funds have enabled us to alleviate the painful effects of our decreased revenue, we must remember that they are only a short-term solution.
The stimulus package is a one-time fix that will not be available for the 2011 Budget. This is why we have worked so hard over this session to pass economic recovery packages such as the JOBS Act. The JOBS Act will speed Georgia’s economic recovery by allowing the private sector to grow and create jobs.
Last chance to apply for the 2009 tax year senior/disabled homestead exemption in Lumpkin and Dawson counties is April 1. If you qualify and have not applied for these homestead exemptions at your county tax office by April 1, you will not be able to get them for 2009. You’ve got one week left to apply. Please don’t miss out.
I need to keep hearing from you on issues of concern. You can meet with me during one of my two remaining Saturday morning breakfasts with constituents.
My March 28 and April 4 breakfasts will be at 8 a.m. at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega.
Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334; (404) 657-8534; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.