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Burns: Where and what can be cut
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During this week of the legislative session, several bills were on the agenda. Although the session has just begun, we, as legislators, are already in full swing deciding on numerous important pieces of legislation.  

Gov. Sonny Perdue gave his State of the State address two weeks ago and included his budget recommendations for the amended 2009 budget and the 2010 fiscal year budget. Two major tax bills were on the calendar for debate on Friday, only one of which was voted upon. The House passed HB 143 on Friday, the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant legislation (HTRG), and it has been sent to the Senate for consideration. Next week, members of the House of Representatives will vote on HR1 which will decide the fate of property reassessment caps.  

In this current budget climate, what we are dealing with is the same thing every individual family in Georgia has to deal with. Our income is down and some tough choices and decisions have to be made. When times get tough, we have to cut back. Families all across Georgia are making some similar decisions that we as lawmakers are facing with our budget. In this climate, with such a severe economic downtown, we have to look at our options concerning the budget and cut back on nonessential and some essential items. It is a challenging and sometimes heartwrenching task.

With a $2.2 billion budget deficit, the governor had tough choices to make in his proposal.  The issue is revenue. By using some of the money in the Revenue Shortfall Reserve (RSR), also known as Georgia’s rainy day fund, the governor is hoping to get through the difficult economic times Georgians are facing. In the governor’s recommended 2009 amended budget, $187 million was used from the Midyear Adjustment Reserve and $50 million from the RSR. For the 2010 budget, $408 million was included from the reserve.  

The governor’s proposal is the recommendations for the budget. We are in the process of budget hearings to determine our version of the budget, as is the Senate. Using the governor’s revenue estimate, set at around $19.2 billion for the rest of 2009 and $20.2 billion for fiscal year 2010, the members of the House will decide how we believe the money in the budget should be spent. The House and Senate will then come to an agreement on a budget proposal to be voted on by both chambers.

The governor’s proposal would eliminate the Homeowner’s Property Tax Relief Grants, essentially saving the state $428 million. The problem that arises is that if it is not funded, this amount is placed onto the property owners in Georgia, another bill for $200-$300. With many families facing dire economic times, this could become a burden on families in our communities. The legislature promised this money last year and the House plans on fulfilling the promise they made to property owners. The members of the House are struggling with the idea of how to fund the grant this year and on Friday we passed HB 143 by a 117-55 margin. This Homeowners Tax Relief Grant legislation commits us to pay for the grant covering the 2009 budget and sets the rules for how the grant program will be administered in the future. This program is intended to be a mechanism to send back surplus funds to homeowners and the legislation we passed outlines how and when these grants will be distributed and will also make it easier for local governments to plan their budgets.  

On a lighter note, my fellow members of the state House and I put aside our personal college football loyalties and recognized Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, the ACC Coach of the Year, and Jonathan Dwyer, the ACC Player of the Year. Every good college football fan should be able to put pride aside and congratulate someone on a job well done — even if they are a rival.

Over the next 30 legislative days we will make the tough decisions necessary to pass a balanced budget. I hope that we will also be able to improve education, create a statewide trauma network, and expand our transportation infrastructure. These are the issues that I believe to be the most important for Georgia and its future.

But I want to know what you think. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Capitol office. I look forward to hearing from you soon. My email address is and my office number is (404) 656-5116.