Despite an icy start to this year’s legislative session, I’m eagerly beginning my journey as state senator for the 51st District.
I’m honored to serve on your behalf in the Senate and committed to finding solutions to our state’s toughest problems.
My predecessor, Chip Pearson, served this area for six years as a true statesman. He grew awareness across the state of everything our district has to offer, which has helped bring countless opportunities to local residents. I thank him for his tireless service and look forward to building on the strong foundation he’s created for the district.
While our nation has technically been in an economic recovery for a year and half, there’s still a long way to go. Georgia’s unemployment rate is still trending upward of the national average, and businesses in our local hometowns still struggle to survive. This session, the legislature will be tasked with developing policy that makes our state attractive to new and expanding business opportunities. We must stay focused on creating a climate that encourages job growth and retention.
One of the most important steps we’ll take to securing a prosperous future for Georgia is to utilize our financial resources effectively. This all comes down to balancing the state budget, the legislature’s sole constitutional responsibility.
Amid a slowly recovering economy, balancing the budget has become an increasingly arduous task. Just like families who cut back their budget in lean times, government too must live within its means.
After the first week of session, the Senate and House moved into joint budget hearings where legislators heard from various state agencies on their financial needs.
We also learned what Gov. Nathan Deal has recommended for the budget during his State of the State address, which gives the legislature a starting point to crafting the budget.
He has reduced the revenue estimate by more than $27.5 million, recommending that we operate the remainder of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget on $18.2 billion. Even before this budget reduction, we were already spending $2.4 billion less than we were in 2009.
To ensure that our state government operates on a scale that matches the current economic environment, Deal is also recommending the elimination of 14,000 vacant state positions. It’s important to note that these positions have already been made vacant through attrition, and the governor is simply eliminating them permanently. However, the need for such a drastic cut to state resoures certainly underscores the seriousness of our economic situation.
Education will be a top priority of the Deal administration, and the governor has said that his budget recommendations will end teacher furloughs and keep students in school for a full year.
He also addressed changes that must be made to ensure the HOPE scholarship remains fiscally sound. If no action is taken, HOPE will not be able to fund its obligations by 2013.
I agree that we must focus our spending on creating an educated workforce prepared to take on the jobs of the future.
Our children and grandchildren will need the tools to adapt to a rapidly changing economy.
We’ll also face challenges to ensure access to quality health care, as the federal health care bill adds even greater budgetary challenges, particularly in Medicaid. Under the bill, another 650,000 Georgians could be added to Medicaid rolls, costing the state $2.5 billion over the next 10 years. We will face some tough decisions, but by working with our health care providers, I’m confident we can develop ways to ensure quality patient care.
This session, I plan to consistently focus on improving our state’s economic competitiveness while working to meet the challenges facing Georgians across the state.
I encourage my constituents in the 51st Senate District to call on me whenever I may be of service, and I look forward to working with all stakeholders as we put Georgia on the path to future success.
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. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at email@example.com.