WEEKLY LEGISLATIVE REPORT

Representative Barbara Massey Reece

Week of February 22, 2010

  Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees met last week for the first half of a two-week round of hearings on the annual state budget for fiscal year 2011.  State department heads met with the committee members for discussions on more cuts to the $18.2 billion spending plan proposed by Gov. Perdue, who is forecasting a 4.2 percent growth in revenue for next year, despite the fact that state tax collections have fallen 14 months in a row and are down by 13 percent so far in fiscal year 2010.  Georgia Budget & Policy Institute Director Alan Essig contends that the decline in revenues is so steep that the current year’s budget, already cut by $1.2 billion, will have to be reduced by another $210 million. He said lawmakers will have to transfer federal stimulus funds budgeted in FY 2011 into the 2010 budget to make up for that shortfall between now and the end of the current fiscal year, which is June 30. According to Essig, that transfer will set the stage for a $1 billion shortfall in the 2011 budget. Legislative budget writers have indicated they are considering further, drastic cuts to higher education and more personnel reductions. Department heads are being asked for lists of employees who are fully vested in state pension benefits, with the thinking being they could be encouraged to retire early. The budget meetings are continuing this week before the full legislature reconvenes on Monday, March 8. 

2010 Census

You should receive your census questionnaire by mail sometime this month. The census is important for a number of reasons. It will determine state population counts and determine representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as boundaries for state and local legislative and congressional districts. Census data also guides planning for new hospitals, roads, job training centers, schools and other programs essential to communities. It is also vital for residents of House District 11 to be counted in the 2010 census. Estimates show that between 2000 and 2008, Floyd County experienced a population gain of 5,184, while Chattooga County grew by 1,307 residents. In the 2000 Census, Floyd County’s response rate was 62 percent and Chattooga County’s was 58 percent, compared to the national response rate of 67 percent and the Georgia response rate of 65 percent. I encourage everyone to participate in the 2010 Census. It is critically important and only takes a few minutes. For more information, visit www.census.georgia.gov.

  Water ConservationThe House of Representatives is considering water management legislation that calls for some limited conservation measures for the construction industry and power utilities. The proposal would require builders to include low-flow plumbing devices in all new structures and would require large industrial and commercial buildings to deploy more efficient chillers and water cooling towers as part of their heating and air conditioning systems. HB 1094 was approved by the Natural Resources & Environment Committee and now awaits a vote on the House floor. Transportation FundingGov. Perdue has proposed legislation calling for a referendum on a 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects in each of special districts across the state. While I support the regional approach for additional transportation funding, there is growing concern over HB 1218 because of its top-down policy, with the state dictating the makeup of the regions rather than counties voluntarily coming together to form their own regions and having more local control. Also, the governor’s bill would not call for the referendum until 2012, meaning Georgia’s transportation needs would have to wait an additional two years for a long-overdue funding solution. The plan is under consideration in the House Transportation Committee. Teacher Pay Proposal

Senate Bill 386, currently under consideration in the Senate Education & Youth Committee, would impose a so-called “merit pay” system for Georgia’s public school teachers and administrators that would be largely tied to students’ scores on standardized tests, rather than each educator’s level of experience. This proposal is facing stiff opposition because standardized testing is an unreliable method of evaluating teacher performance due to the differences in classroom resources, academic programs and socioeconomic conditions that exist from one school system to another. The reliance by government on “common evaluation instruments” and standardized test scores has already led to charges of educators being encouraged to specifically “teach to the test” rather than providing a broader learning experience that our students will need for success in life.

 

Rep. Reece may be reached at 404-656-7859 or barbara.reece@house.ga.gov.  Rep. Reece serves on the Education Committee, State Institutions and Properties Committee, Science and Technology Committee, and the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee.  She is also Secretary of the Rural Caucus.