As the state’s revenues continue to lag far behind expectations, Gov. Sonny Perdue will be consulting with top lawmakers this week.
One of the items of discussion will be the prospect of a special session, with the 234 members of the General Assembly reconvening under the Gold Dome to figure out what to do about the coming budget.
“We’re going to talking about that,” Perdue said Friday. “I’m going to apprise them of the revenue numbers as I know them right now. They’ve been rather disappointing, certainly for the first five months of this year. If they continue, it is likely we will not meet the budget we set for 2010, and we will have to make some corrective action.”
The governor signed the $18.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2010 in May. The budget — a decrease in $2.5 billion from FY09 — is scheduled to go into effect July 1. But if the revenues, which were down more than $362 million this April from April 2008 and more than $211 million last month from May 2008, don’t improve, another session to discuss how to further pare the budget likely will be in the offing.
Once the regular General Assembly session, lawmakers expressed their delight in being done with the 40 days of work, though putting together the budget was a difficult process.
“It was just such a horrible session because of the budget situation. And it just got worse as the year wore on,” said Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Our unemployment rate kept rising. The governor lowered the revenue estimate again. It became really difficult to write a budget without really cutting state government, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But we did it without raising taxes. We did it the right way and survived.”
Said state Rep. Jon Burns: “The cuts have been dramatic. But if the economy continues to flounder, they will be much deeper and I think every citizen in the state will realize how bad the economy is and how bad state’s revenues are because of our requirement to have a balanced budget.”
The state has more than $500 million in the reserve shortfall fund — the “rainy day” fund — but some or most of that could be used up to plug the gaps in the FY10 budget before it goes into effect. State agencies have been asked to slash their budgets. More cuts, though, might be needed if a special session is called.
“I hope we don’t have to go back and cut again,” Hill said. “If it doesn’t level out, we’ll probably have to come back and cut additional budgets. That will be very hard to do. There’s some real pain in the budget. Everybody got at least 8 percent reductions. Some got 10 percent and those aren’t departments that had a lot of fat.”
Perdue praised the work of the state’s department heads and agency chiefs for whittling their spending requests down.
“Everyone has done everything they can to pull together and live within our means,” he said. “As state government, we’re not immune to the economy, just as families and communities aren’t.”
The governor also remained optimistic that the tide will turn but won’t rule out bringing the lawmakers back to Atlanta to chop more out of the budget.
“We’re going to get through this,” he said. “Whether we call a special session or not depends on what the prospects look like.”