Our top priority this session is enacting policy focused on job creation and economic growth.  But there is no debate; the 2011 budget is the biggest challenge we have. Georgia’s budget is a paramount challenge and the unprecedented nature of the dire situation calls for a focused approach. January’s revenue numbers came in well below expectations and we are now $235 million behind based on Department of Revenue tracked revenues. To ensure the state is not subjected to the same budget issues as 2010, the Senate will be in recess for two weeks, working and focusing on Georgia’s Fiscal Year 2011 (FY11) budget. Balancing the budget is our constitutional obligation and it must be done the right way in order to create an economic climate in Georgia that will provide more jobs – our top priority.

 

We are in the process of adjusting FY11 budget back to 2005 revenue levels with approximately 600,000 more Georgians added to our population since then. Due to previous cuts in the 2009 and 2010 budgets, our budget make-up consists of 57% education (k-12 & universities combined), 15% health services, 6% Department of Corrections, 3% for human services (DFCS, Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, and 11% for all other Agencies. To say we have some “tough choices” ahead is a colossal understatement. The 2011 budget may very well have to go beyond the appropriations process and statutory changes may have to be considered.

 

Some suggest that raising taxes and fees is a simple and quick fix to adjusting revenues.  This band-aid approach could not come at worse time for hard-working families around the state already struggling to make due with less and businesses that are being forced to cut jobs and trim payroll.

 

It is paramount we take time to go over every area of every agency to analyze where the best efficiencies can be found. Our Senate budget team, alongside our Budget Task Force of top business and economic experts around the state, are working toward identifying wasteful government spending while protecting vital areas such as education and public safety.  It is a long process that must allow every idea and avenue to be laid on the table for discussion.  Our state’s future is too important to rush through this budget and not identify common-sense, fiscally responsible solutions that will move Georgia toward a prosperous and bright tomorrow.

 

While the budget is the top challenge, our top priority must be job creation and economic growth for Georgia. The national economy is beginning to show signs of stabilization, but we won’t begin to feel the relief in Georgia for a while. Thousands of Georgians are still looking for work amid one of the most severe recessions our state has seen. The best way to turn Georgia’s economy around is to cultivate the right environment for businesses to grow and expand so people can get back to work.  Permanent job creation is the best catalyst for Georgia’s economic recovery.

 

In addition to budget cuts and spurring economic growth, we must not encumber Georgia’s property owners with grossly over assessed property values. In an attempt to bring fairness to an unfair property tax system, the Senate Finance Committee has been working with Senate leadership on the property tax assessment and appeals reform bill. Since the bill’s proposal, the Finance Committee has worked on nearly 60 changes to the property tax system. The committee will continue to perfect this bill and work to reduce taxpayer burdens.

 

We must continue our conservative leadership of less spending, lower taxes, providing business growth incentives and finding government efficiencies to spur economic development. Conservative leadership in Georgia has a proven record of reducing inefficiencies, while increasing investments in those limited areas where state government has a fiscal responsibility – particularly education.

 

As this budget process continues, I will continue to work with my colleagues in finding conservative solutions to growing our economy and reducing our state budget. We must continue to evaluate the role of government in our daily lives and how best government can get out of the way to let the citizens of Georgia grow and prosper.

I am honored to serve and represent the 53rd Senate District in the State Senate and as the Senate Transportation Chairman. I am working diligently to move Georgia forward for the citizens of this great state with an improved plan of economic development and transportation. As I work for you this session, please continue to contact me with your thoughts, questions and concerns.

 

# # # #

 

Sen. Jeff Mullis serves as Chairman of the Transportation Committee. He represents the 53rd Senate district which includes Chattooga, Dade, and Walker counties and portions of Catoosa County. He can be reached at his office in Atlanta at 404.656.0057 or by email at jeff.mullis@senate.ga.gov.