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Spending within Georgias means
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Every month, I sit down to review my family's household bills and pay what we owe in full.

Although there are always a few surprises (I remind my kids that they were not born in a barn, but the consequences of an open front door are reflected in the electric bill from time to time) my wife and I rearrange our budget to accommodate all of our monthly expenses. Even though our bills may fluctuate from time to time, we are careful to never spend beyond our means.

This is what the Georgia General Assembly did last week, only on a much larger scale.

We recessed in order to allow the Senate and House Appropriations committees to review our current and anticipated "bills" in an effort to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned in my column that this is a pretty complicated process because we have to make sure all state operations are properly funded without overspending. In addition to setting the framework for the FY 2014 budget (the "big budget"), the FY 2013 (the "little budget") must be revised to account for unexpected expenses.

Each year, Gov. Nathan Deal offers his budget recommendations during his "State of the State" address. These recommendations serve as a guide for legislators during the appropriations process and while most of the recommendations are solid, it is important that we also hear from the state agencies that are dependent on these funds for basic operations.

The Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Georgia Ports Authority and the Department of Economic Development are just a few of the agencies that present their expenditure plans.

For FY 2014, Deal has proposed a $19.8 billion budget, which is a slight increase from last year's budget. Our Revenue Shortfall Reserve, or "rainy day" fund, stands at $378 million, not counting the amount that will cover K-12 enrollment growth in FY13.

This means that in the case of an emergency, our state could continue operations for a full seven days-but we must continue replenishing this reserve account.

Although Georgia's economy is finally seeing some growth and declining unemployment, we are still navigating our way out of a national recession. Spending reductions are necessary to make sure we spend within our means and balance the state budget.

However, even with the slight budget reduction, Deal maintained funding for key areas such as public safety, health care, education and economic development in his recommendations, including:

• $147 million to fund enrollment K - 12 enrollment growth

• K - 12 Needs: $3.8 million provide funding for more school nurses, professional development and classroom technology

• Increasing the award amount for HOPE scholarships and grants by 3 percent

• $246 million to fund Medicaid and PeachCare expense growth and to reduce state funds to offset an increase in federal contributions

• $35 million to provide funds for mental health, including additional case management services; a new crisis service center, crisis stabilization program and expansion of mobile crisis services; housing for an additional 600 individuals; new supported employment and peer services; and additional options for consumer transportation

• $25 million in bonds for water supply projects through the Department of Community Affairs and Georgia Environmental Finance Authority

• $50,000,000 in bonds to expand and deepen the Savannah Harbor

• $16 million in additional motor fuel funds for road and bridge projects based on anticipated revenue collections.

The next step for both the FY 2013 amended budget and the FY 2014 general budget is to go through the legislative process.

The proposed budgets will be introduced in the House-all fiscal bills start in the House-and must be passed before traveling to the Senate.

Any significant changes in the bill between the House and Senate will require an appointed conference committee made up of members of both chambers to agree on a compromised version of the budget before it can be signed by the Governor.

I know the process seems confusing, but I am glad to answer any and all of your questions about the appropriations process.

I will be at Mike's Restaurant, Hwy. 282 West,Ellijay, at 8 a.m. Feb. 2 in Gilmer County. All are welcome!

If you are unable to make it to Mike's Restaurant for breakfast, feel free to contact my office at any time to talk about the budget, pending legislation or to address other concerns in our district - my door and phone lines are always open.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as chairman of the Transportation Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at