On April 20, after nearly four months of work, the 2007 session of the Georgia state legislature came to an end.
Or did it?
Speculation abounds that any day now Gov. Sonny Perdue will call for a special session to address unfinished business. Specifically, the governor wants the legislature to address the midyear budget that he vetoed on April 19.
Or did he?
On the evening of April 19 in front of a live TV audience, the governor supposedly vetoed the midyear budget indicating his dislike, among other things, of a $142 million property tax refund for homeowners. The following day the House voted to override the veto by a vote of 163-5.
After immediately delivering the veto to the State Senate by a special committee of House members, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle declared the House vote unconstitutional because the Governor’s veto had not been officially transmitted to the Legislature. After a brief recess both chambers continued their work and the session officially ended at midnight on April 20.
So where does that put us now?
First of all, until the governor officially transmits the veto to the Legislature there is no veto and therefore no reason for a special session. There are many, many scenarios that have been discussed to avoid a special session and save taxpayers the costs involved. Because special sessions must last a minimum of five days, the total costs could be close to $300,000.
Some have suggested that even if the governor vetoes the midyear budget we can avoid a special session. After all, we’re currently operating under the 2007 budget and, according to the state’s constitution, the only thing we are required to do during a legislative session is to pass a balanced budget. We did that this session with the 2008 budget. All indications are that the governor is happy with the 2008 budget and intends to sign it.
It’s important to understand that midyear budgets are adjustments that are made to the regular budget and were initially used primarily to address midterm adjustments in education such as increases in student enrollment. Regular budgets include reserves of 1 percent to provide for additional spending in the midyear budgets. For instance, the 2007 midyear budget includes $173 million for K-12 purposes, reflecting increases in the full-time enrollment counts during the fall quarter.
Midyear budgets also are used to reflect any changes in revenue projections. In the case of the 2007 midyear budget the governor has projected a revenue increase of $578 million. Because our state’s constitution requires us to have a balanced budget, then extra money must be appropriated.
The proposed tax break that is the center of controversy is only a portion of the $751 million 2007 midyear budget that includes programs in need of crucial funding.
Among those are $81 million for PeachCare, $11 million for Tornado Damage relief funding in Southwest Georgia, $15.5 million for indigent care for hospitals and $46 million for infrastructure for the KIA project. Obviously, the governor and Legislature recognize the importance of these programs and their need to be funded.
Whether the proposed $142 million tax break remains, is changed to a tax break for senior citizens, or is added to the state’s rainy day fund remains to be seen.
What we do know for certain is that budget standoffs are commonplace at the Capitol and while this one may require a special session to resolve, we are all confident that the governor and Legislature will find consensus in our conviction to do what is best for the state of Georgia.