The Georgia General Assembly worked long hours this week on passing the legislation through the respective chambers before midnight on the thirtieth legislative day. This event represents a milestone in the legislative process. This session we’ve worked hard to deliver a balanced budget and focus on greater accountability and transparency in government.
First and foremost, the General Assembly passed a balanced budget, cutting nearly $2 billion from the original 2009 budget. Much like Georgia families, we’ve cut our own budgets to live within our means. I am very pleased to have been a key team member in producing a balanced budget that prioritizes the needs of Georgians. While Washington is busy sending our nation further and further in debt, Georgia was successful in cutting wasteful spending without raising taxes.
I’ve worked hard with my colleagues to pass legislation that will help relieve the financial pressures in our state. Senate Resolution 1 is a constitutional amendment that requires any budget surplus first fund increases in student enrollment and then be placed into the state reserve fund. If the state reserve fund were to reach 10% of the previous year budget, surplus funds would then go to pay off state debt or be returned to the taxpayers. The Senate also passed zero based budgeting under SB 1 which will streamline our budgeting process and enable us to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiencies of programs. This will help state government be better stewards of taxpayer dollars and cut waste.
The Senate has passed many bills in favor of property owners. Senate Bill 83 will provide desperately needed tax relief for homeowners. This Legislation will increase the amount of the state-wide homestead exemption from $2,000.00 to $4,000.00 with automatic future adjustments for inflation. Senate Bill 240 enables property owners to go directly into arbitration over property assessments rather than going through the regular lengthy government process. It removes government bureaucratic layers, providing property owners more flexible options for resolving assessment disputes and achieving fair arbitration. We were successful in restoring the Homeowners Tax Relief Grants, once thought to be a casualty of the economic decline.
Accountability and transparency in government has been an overall theme of the 2009 Legislative Session. The “Transforming Transportation Act” allows for a new, transparent funding model much like the way other agencies in Georgia are funded and governed. As legislators, we will be able to represent our constituents’ needs much better by having a greater say in the appropriations process and directing what projects are funded. SB 200 simply restructures our state’s transportation agencies to equip them to succeed in carrying out their mission, in a more responsive manner through increased accountability.
A lot of attention has centered recently on the news that some elected members of the legislature have failed to pay their taxes. I believe this is totally unacceptable. I have filed and paid all of my taxes. In an effort to make elected officials more accountable and government more transparent, the Senate passed the “Transparency in Government Act” last session. We created a new website, www.Open.Ga.Gov, where citizens can go to the site and easily locate information on state government salaries, travel expenditures, professional services expenditures, government contracts, and comprehensive annual reports. Performance audits, program evaluations, and special examinations released by the Department of Audits and Accounts over the last five years are also available.
As elected officials we are expected to pass legislation aimed at preserving life not destroying it. Yesterday, the Senate passed the Ethical Treatment of Embryos Act (Senate Bill 169). This landmark legislation clearly states that embryos cannot be used for cloning and experimentation that combines human and non-human gametes. Additionally, the creation of human embryo will be protected and preserved for fertilization or cryopreservation to treat infertility. The bill does not restrict research; rather it prohibits the destruction of human embryos in Georgia. We value life at all stages and recognize that we have a moral duty to live within certain boundaries for scientific research.
It is an honor to serve you at the Capitol each day. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to pass common sense legislation that will benefit all of Georgia.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.