ATLANTA (January 21, 2009) — The Senate and House Appropriations Committees began their joint budget hearings today at the state Capitol, led by co-chairmen Senator Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) and Representative Ben Harbin (R-Evans).  Lawmakers heard presentations on the Department of Revenue, Education, Natural Resources and the Judicial Branch.

The meeting began with Governor Sonny Perdue outlining his budget proposal emphasizing the need for government to provide the most value to its citizen with the resources available.  He noted that education funding is critically important in shaping the state’s future, and has proposed a $1.2 billion bond package to invest in education infrastructure.  Gov. Perdue also encouraged passage of his “Super Speeder” legislation, where fines for excess speeding will be dedicated to funding a trauma care network.  This proposal, previously proposed in 2008, answers the call of many across the state to strengthen Georgia’s limited trauma care system. 

The committee was then presented with an economic forecast by Dr. Kenneth Heaghney, state fiscal economist.  After listing the downward trends Georgia has recently experienced across all economic sectors, including an average loss of 17,000 jobs a month, Dr. Heaghney said he predicts the state will begin to see a mild recovery in the middle of 2009. 

Departments and agencies then delivered presentations focused on what impact a $2.2 billion budget shortfall will have on their programs.  Despite decreased funding, State School Superintendent Kathy Cox outlined several new goals she plans to implement to meet the pressing needs of Georgia’s students, including increasing high school graduation rates, strengthening teacher quality, improving students’ workforce readiness skills, developing strong educational leaders, improving test scores, and creating policies that ensure the maximum academic and financial accountability.  A major concern for the General Assembly is the reduction in school nurses for 2010.  Nurses are contracted through this year, but could be eliminated in 2010.  

Budget briefings will continue through the week with hearings on transportation, public safety, economic development, the University system, and community health.