Just like families across our state and country, the Georgia legislature has had to drastically limit spending in order to balance its checkbook.
This year, lawmakers have been faced with one of the worst economic climates in the state’s history, of which people’s jobs and livelihood have been the primary casualty.
This has caused an unprecedented challenge to constructing a state budget that balances the needs of the state with fiscally responsible spending.
The Senate has successfully passed its version of a balanced budget, near the end of what has been one of the longest legislative sessions in state history.
We’ve spent the majority of this session grappling with how to reduce spending with the least impact on Georgia citizens. But with an almost $1 billion gap in revenue, we’ve had no choice but to cut to the bone.
Essentially, the decline in revenue levels has put us five and half years back in time, when we had a significantly smaller population and less demand on government services.
When you consider that 80 percent of the budget that could be reduced is comprised of K-12 education, higher education, corrections and healthcare, our choices were not easy.
Most state agencies have been reduced 20 percent or more, and the Senate cut $2.6 billion in spending.
The good news is that less spending means a leaner and more efficient state government.
We’ve prioritized taxpayer dollars in vital areas, such as education programs like 4-H and the state’s Medicaid system. An additional $120 million will be provided to help schools meet their enrollment growth, as well as training and experience for Georgia teachers.
We’ve restored $26 million in cuts to doctors and other Medicaid providers, while also directing $42 million for improvements to the state’s hospitals to assist some of our neediest citizens.
We’ve also targeted funds for economic development, funding a nearly $190 million bond package for growth at Georgia’s ports that are a key element to the state’s economy.
We accomplished all of this without raising taxes on Georgia citizens and have even managed to cut several taxes, including the state’s portion of the property tax and income taxes on seniors.
A balanced budget can put our state on the road to economic recovery, and with the legislature’s passage of landmark transportation legislation, that road will lead us to cultivating the right environment for job creation and business growth.
The House and Senate came together to pass real transportation funding solutions for Georgians, which promotes economic growth and enhances Georgia’s attractiveness to potential businesses and residents. Investing in our infrastructure and freight corridors will help us move Georgia products, as well as goods and services, through the state.
By opening freight corridors, the supply and demand channels will move quickly and produce a more stable economy. Products and services will reach across Georgia and even into neighboring states.This is a big first step toward reducing the congestion and gridlock that prevents Georgians from easily getting to their jobs and families.
Georgia’s property owners triumphed in the General Assembly last week with the overwhelming bi-partisan support in the House of Senate Bill 346.
Championed by Senate Majority Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, the Property Tax Assessment and Appeals reform bill is aimed at ensuring all Georgia properties are properly assessed at Fair Market Value and that property owners have guaranteed rights to appeal. This is the most sweeping overhaul of the Georgia property tax system in decades.
Property owners deserve fair and transparent assessments and appeals process. While this does not solve all the issues with Georgia’s property tax system, it begins to level the playing field between property owners and the government.
Balancing the budget in tough economic times while still providing essential services, passing transportation funding legislation and bringing about property tax reform are all victories for the people of Georgia.
Sen. Chip Pearson serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at email@example.com.