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Are vetoes stepping on toes?
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Last week, this column looked at the governor’s vetoes of legislation. This week, we will examine the wide-reaching vetoes of various bond projects.

Unlike the federal government, in Georgia, the governor has line-item veto power, which is generally a positive because the chief executive of the state has the final responsibility for decisions involving state expenditures. However, according to the Constitution, the Legislature writes and passes the appropriations bill and is the sole authority for the state to expend funds.

There were two areas of the bond package where the governor exercised vetoes: There were seven “design” projects, one for Regents institutions and six design projects in the technical college system that were vetoed by the governor. Additionally, there were three Regents construction projects that were funded at half of total estimated construction cost that were vetoed and one renovation project that was funded at an amount less than the estimated cost.

The governor’s veto message on the design projects stated that five-year bonds should be used for planning versus the 20-year bonds proposed by the Legislature. Five-year bonds have traditionally been the length that the Legislature and the governor have used when funding planning and design separately from construction. Pressure because of severe cash shortages in the FY12 budget caused the change this year. And, of course, there is precedent for 20-year planning bonds. For example, the Southern Crescent Technical College classroom project is a “design and construct” project utilizing 20 year bonds of $5.4 million proposed in the budget by the governor. Additionally the Twiggs County Library project of $1.15 million was a “design and construct” project where 20-year bonds were proposed in the governor’s budget as well.

The design projects vetoed were: University of Georgia Science Learning Center, $3.2 million, Altamaha Technical College, Camden County, $1.2 million, Lanier Technical College, Hall County, combined classroom/economic development building, $2.2 million, Southeastern Technical College, Emanuel County, Health Services/Library for $590,000, Gwinnett Technical College, North Fulton Campus, $3 million, Ogeechee Technical College, Natural Resources classroom building, $730,000, and Middle Georgia Technical College, Health Services Center, $1.0 million.    

Artificial bond constraints root cause of vetoes

The governor vetoed three Regents construction projects because “funding is insufficient, providing only a partial amount needed to complete the construction.” The three projects vetoed were Valdosta State University Health Science building, $5 million for Phase I of a $32 million project, Clayton State University, science building, $9.9 million of a $19 million project, Dalton College, Whitfield County, Academic building, $8,075,000 of a $16,150,000 project. Interestingly, the Valdosta State project was proposed in the original governor’s budget and all three, including Dalton College and Clayton State were on the Regents’ top priority list.

Of course, the only reason partial funding was proposed in the two projects added by the Legislature was the low bond ceiling imposed by the governor, originally at some $296 million in bonds lower than the FY2011 budget. Eventually the governor agreed to a bond ceiling increase of $115 million from his original budget proposal but the final FY2012 bond package of $675 million still was some $183 million less than the FY2011 total of $858 million.

The number and amount of proposed bond projects added by the legislature was even less than in the past indicating that was not the problem, just the artificial limit imposed by the executive branch.

Additionally, the governor vetoed the Georgia College and State University’s Ennis Hall renovation, which was partially funded at $4.89 million of a total project cost of $9.1 million. Left in the budget and not vetoed was another renovation projection at Armstrong Atlantic and State University, partially funded at $2.75 million, half of the $5.5 million needed for the project.

The priority list developed by the Board of Regents is based on a 5-year revolving Capital Outlay Plan depending on an expected yearly total of $250 million which has not been fulfilled as budget totals have fallen. The governor’s Regents Bond proposal for FY2012 of $81 million was less than half of last year’s Regent’s bond package. In FY2011, after legislative adds, Regents received Capital Outlay bonds totaling $173 million and the just completed budget only contained $148.9 in bond funding after vetoes. 

The Technical College System Board proposed a priority list of projects this year and the top projects were among those vetoed by the Governor including the Camden County Campus of Altamaha Tech and projects at Southeastern Tech and Middle Georgia Tech. All projects in the House, Senate and Conference Committee versions of the 2012 budget were based on priority lists of the Regents and Technical School Boards.

The Board of Regents and the Board of the Technical College System have a role to play in the establishing of capital outlay priorities for their institutions. But more importantly, the Legislature, as the appropriating body, has a responsibility through its membership to write the state’s budget including the bond portion and should be an equal partner to the executive branch. If the past four years of recession and shrinking revenues have proven anything, it is that the Legislature is a responsible budgeting body and will do its part in making difficult decisions for the future of Georgia.    

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