Last week marked another busy time at the state capitol. The House voted on the amended fiscal year 2010 state budget and passed legislation to give local school systems more flexibility. Additionally, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the first bill of the 2010 session into law.
As you are aware, the current economic downturn has led to many difficult decisions under the Gold Dome in Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, the House Appropriations Committee has confronted these difficulties. As a result of the hard work, the House voted on House Bill 947, the amended 2010 fiscal year budget, which totaled $17.4 billion. This amended budget sets state spending through the end of June and astonishingly mirrors state spending from five years ago, a reflection of the tough economic situation we all face. Though smaller, this budget seeks to do more with less while making the necessary budget cuts as painless as possible.
Keeping in mind that our children should be a top priority, the House worked to ensure vital education programs were saved in HB 947. We specifically made sure to preserve $17.4 million for Equalization Grant funding, which affects 134 Georgia school systems. There is also $93 million to pay for enrollment growth in our K-12 schools and another $4 million for programs that assist with direct instruction to students. We also made sure not to use any funds from the lottery program, which protects the funding for Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K program.
HB 947 also increased funding for other state programs, such as mental hospitals and disaster assistance. It includes $6 million to help hospitals cover uncompensated healthcare, a necessary step to maintain quality healthcare throughout the state. It also contains funding for additional agents and auditors in the Department of Revenue (DOR). These new DOR employees will help ensure prompt delivery of your state income tax returns, improve sales tax collection and pursue delinquent taxes owed to the state.
Although we were able to fund these programs despite the state’s declining revenues, there were some difficult cuts that had to be made. First, many state agency’s budgets were reduced by an additional 8 percent. Additionally, because a large majority of the state’s budget is allocated to personnel salaries for teachers and other state employees, furlough days are a part of the cuts needed to balance our state budget. This means that all state employees, including teachers, will be asked to take additional furlough days.
The amount of savings for the furlough days for state employees is around $290 million. Due to our budget shortfalls and declining state revenues, the savings allows us to save jobs while we continue to fund the crucial programs, all without raising taxes. I want to make everyone aware that we are doing everything we can to continue to keep our citizens employed and we are all making sacrifices. The members of the General Assembly have voluntarily decided to also take additional furlough days, for a total now of 11. The understanding must be that the state budget is very limited and restrained, just as the budgets of families in Georgia.
In an effort to work through this difficult economic period, the House has worked with local officials, like our school systems, to give them the flexibility they need to manage their budgets. With this in mind, we passed HB 908 to give local school systems this flexibility and lift certain expenditure requirements that control how education funds can be spent.
While my colleagues and I have been discussing the state’s budget, I know that your family is gathering around the kitchen table to discuss ways to cut expenses. With this in mind, I wanted to let you know about the State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program. This program, which began Friday, provides Georgians with rebates ranging from $25 to $199 on ENERGY STAR rated appliances. Appliances eligible for the program include clothes washers, dishwashers, air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators and freezers. For more information about this program, please visit www.GeorgiaRebate.com.
As we continue to work through these tough times, I would like to know what issues are most pressing for you and your family. As your state representative, I am always eager to hear your concerns. Please feel free to call me with any questions or comments that you might have regarding our state. You can reach me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-5116 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your time.