WEEKLY LEGISLATIVE REPORT

Representative Barbara Massey Reece

Week of March 1-5, 2010

 

The Appropriations Committees of the House of Representatives and Senate just completed two weeks of hearings on the annual state budget for fiscal year 2011, for the purpose of considering more cuts to the $18.2 billion spending plan proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

 

The Governor has forecast a 4.2 percent growth in revenue for next year, despite the fact that state tax collections have declined for 15 consecutive months and are now down by 12.7 percent through the first eight months of fiscal year 2010. It has been estimated that the amended budget for this year will have to be cut by at least another $200 million, and the 2011 budget is facing an overall shortfall of at least $1.5 billion.

 

Legislative budget writers are considering drastic actions in order to balance the budget. More personnel cuts will probably be necessary. Department heads are being asked for lists of employees who are fully vested in state pension benefits and could be encouraged to retire early.

 

The most controversial budget proposal is a recommendation to slash another $300 million from Georgia’s public colleges and universities, on top of the $265 million reduction proposed by Gov. Perdue. Having already cut $380 million from the University System budget since 2008, further deep reductions would be painful for college students, faculty and staff and the state’s economy.

 

Under the Board of Regents proposal, Georgia Highlands College in Rome would lose $2.4 million in funding and 31 staff positions. It appears the cuts proposed would be in the most popular programs, including the medical programs. Rome has two hospitals, Floyd and Redmond, along with Harbin Clinic and many medical practices which make it the medical leader in our area. College programs designed to supply skilled medical professionals for these facilities are critical for citizens’ health and the continued economic strength of the area.

 

Statewide, a 35 percent student tuition increase is on the table, and elimination of the Georgia 4-H program has been suggested by Chancellor Erroll Davis and University of Georgia President Michael Adams. No legislative committee has recommended ending the 4-H program or cutting Cooperative Extension positions in half. Pre K-grade 12 and post-secondary education should be the last cut and the least cut programs. I spent 32 years in the classroom and two years as the Cooperative Extension Home Economist with the main responsibility for 33 4-H Clubs in Walker County. As a classroom teacher, I was advisor to local 4-H clubs most of my 32 years.

 

4-H is not just a rural club. Membership in metropolitan and urban areas is high and increasing. 4-H provides opportunities for our youth to develop leadership skills while increasing their knowledge in a variety of project areas ranging from environmental science to nutrition. Agriculture and ag-related businesses are Georgia’s No. 1 industry. In three-fourths of Georgia’s counties, agriculture is the No. 1 industry. This momentum must continue in order for Georgia to have a strong economy. These proposals have been made too quickly without consideration of the consequences.

 

I also suspect the Appropriations leadership is concerned about the salaries of top University System administrators. Thirty students could be cut from Georgia Highlands’ nursing program. If top administrators each took one furlough day per month, some of these and other students could be restored. Many of us are also working to restore funding for the Tuition Equalization Grants for students at Shorter, Berry and other private colleges, which are not included in the governor’s 2011 budget. I have collected many letters and e-mails and will forward them to the House Speaker, Rules Chairman and Appropriations Chairman.

 

These proposals have resulted in a public outcry that is expected to increase as long as these catastrophic cuts to higher education are considered. Our University System has made great strides over the past 20 years in expanding opportunities for students all over the state to get a college education. No one I know wishes to see that progress reversed.

 

Crime Lab Funding

I am continuing to work with fellow legislators and representatives of the groups supporting the continued operation of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Labs in Summerville, Columbus and Moultrie, which have been recommended for closing. The closing of these labs would have a severe negative effect on public safety over a wide area of the state. These labs provide forensic services and firearms/ballistic services to multiple judicial circuits and are essential elements of law enforcement.

 

Cancer Donation Check-Off

During tax season, please remember the voluntary check-off on Georgia’s state income tax form to donate to the research and prevention of cancer in our state. Since the creation of the check-off, more than $2.75 million has been donated. All money contributed stays right here in Georgia for cancer treatment and research. Georgia has a number of research scientists at our colleges who are engaged in a variety of studies which could lead to improved treatment and early detection of cancer.  Even a couple of dollars will help if we all pitch in and contribute.

 

GEFA Loan Sell-Off

The Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA) is apparently moving forward on Gov. Perdue’s proposal to sell off a loan portfolio package to investors, even though the General Assembly has yet to vote on the plan. GEFA officials released a request for proposal to financial underwriters who would be interested in packaging the state loans as a security to be sold to investors. The governor’s version of the fiscal year 2011 budget includes $288 million from the loan portfolio sale, but local governmental officials are concerned that if the loans are sold to Wall Street investors, there will be almost no funds available to make future water and sewer loans. Georgia’s city and county governments depend on the GEFA fund as a source for financing infrastructure improvements.

 

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.