According to Georgia’s Constitution, the Georgia General Assembly is required to convene for its annual 40-day legislative session each year on the second Monday in January. After a major winter storm covered much of our state in a blanket of snow and ice, many Georgia schools and businesses were forced to close. However, that was not an option at the state capitol.
Our state constitution and laws do not allow the General Assembly a snow day. There was no choice; the show had to go on. Fortunately, 145 state representatives of the 180-member House were able to brave the icy conditions and make it to the capitol. That was more than enough to meet the required quorum and begin the 2011 session. Though things may not have gone as originally planned, we were all sworn into office and soon after cast our first vote on the House floor.
This first vote was for the election of the Speaker of the House. After hearing the nominations and speeches, Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) was re-elected Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives overwhelmingly. Next, we elected our Speaker Pro Tem, Jan Jones (R-Milton), and other House officials. This all had to be done fairly quickly since the ice storm caused Gov. Nathan Deal’s inauguration to be moved into the House chamber at the last minute. Fortunately, everyone pulled together and under Speaker Ralston’s leadership, the House was able to complete its first day of business despite the ice storm.
That afternoon, we all came back to the House floor for the inauguration of our state’s 82nd governor. During his inaugural address, Gov. Deal noted that Georgia is entering a new era of smaller government and greater personal responsibility. He reminded us that while we must focus our limited resources on the state’s core missions, we cannot allow economic conditions to overshadow other issues. Among those issues, Gov. Deal specifically highlighted education and public safety as two of his top priorities.
Just two days later, on Jan. 12, the House and Senate reconvened in the House chamber for another joint session with Gov. Deal. This time, we gathered to hear the governor’s State of the State Address. This annual speech allows the current governor to convey his or her assessment of the condition of our state and its people. It usually contains a strong emphasis on the state budget because this speech is given on the same day that the governor presents his budget proposals to the General Assembly. This year, Gov. Deal noted that the two separate state budgets he was presenting, an amended budget for the fiscal year 2011 and the fiscal year 2012 budget, would include spending cuts but also give priority to education, health services and infrastructure development.
The House of Representatives will now take up the governor’s budget proposals in determining the state’s budget for the last half of FY 2011 and for FY 2012. On Jan. 18, members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees will start the process of reviewing the budgets of each state agency. This will begin with a week of joint hearings that will feature the leaders of Georgia’s state agencies. Each department head will explain their agency’s budget and answer any questions from the House and Senate members in attendance.
The newest cuts that will be required to balance our state’s budgets bring further attention to the need for tax reform in Georgia. The 2010
Census revealed that our state population grew by 18.3 percent over the last 10 years, but we have been forced to cut our state budget by nearly $4 billion over the past two fiscal years. Fortunately, the General Assembly took a major step toward tax reform last year when it passed House
Bill 1405 to create the 11-member Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians. This tax council recently completed a thorough study of Georgia’s current revenue structure and submitted its findings and recommendations for changes to our state’s tax code to state legislators. These findings and recommendations will now go to a special joint committee made up of both House and Senate members who will work together in creating new tax reform legislation. I look forward to learning more about these reforms as they make their way through the legislative process.
Though it was only the first week of the 2011 legislative session, it is clear that we have a very busy legislative session ahead of us. As we work through the budget process and review the tax reform recommendations, I will be confronted by many difficult decisions. But first and foremost, my job is to represent you and our neighbors at the state capitol.
To aid in that duty, I plan to send weekly updates to keep you informed during this legislative session. I also hope to hear from you about the issues facing our great state, which you feel are important. Please contact me at email@example.com. My office at the Capitol will be moving and I will let you know the new phone number next week.