|05-07-10 - Legislative wrap-up, part 2|
For immediate release -- May 7, 2010
Legislative wrap-up, part 2
This week’s column will continue to wrap-up and review the 2010 Legislative Session. Last week the Governor signed the Amended 2010 Budget without exercising his line-item veto. The Governor chose to sign the budget as it was passed by the House and Senate. The Amended Budget totals $17.1 billion, a $1.5 billion reduction from the original FY 2010 Budget. Governor Perdue commented, “The leadership of the House and Senate worked very closely with our office to craft an amended budget we could all support.”
The FY 2011 Budget has not yet been signed by Perdue. That budget covers spending which begins July 1, 2010. Despite an unprecedented reduction in state revenues, the Legislature balanced the state budget for the upcoming year. The budget clearly reflects our state’s fiscal conservatism. Two years ago, we passed a state budget of $21.2 billion and at that time we were already ranked 49th in the nation in per capita spending.
Over the past two years, as a result of a downturn in the economy not seen since the Great Depression, we faced enormous drops in state revenue. By and large, the General Assembly has responded by cutting spending rather than digging deeper into Georgians’ back pockets. We have also intelligently cut spending so as to protect those programs most vital to Georgians. The end result is a state budget for the coming year of only $17.9 billion. While all programs have been cut, K-12 education has received the smallest cuts (6% compared to over 10% for many Departments).
Reforming government operations has been a goal for the past two years. In fact, the first 2009 bill introduced in the Senate (SB 1) was the “Zero-based Budgeting Act.” It requires the Governor to provide in his annual budget proposal a zero-based spending plan for at least 1/4 of the state’s programs. This will permit a complete bottom-to-top analysis of every state agency by the General Assembly every four years.
Continuing with government reform, the Legislature passed SB 148, a measure intended to provide the General Assembly with a method by which the efficiency of our state government shall be reviewed and the productivity of each agency evaluated.
SB 148 provides for a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees to constitute the Legislative Sunset Committee. This Committee will review all state agencies, including all boards, departments, advisory committees, authorities, bureaus, offices and any other state entity of the executive branch regardless of its designation. Each agency will be scheduled for a review once every eight years.
The Legislature also passed HB 122, which makes local spending more visible to the citizens. It requires counties and municipalities with an annual budget exceeding $1 million to post their yearly budget and audit on a central state website. Specifically, the following measures are required to be posted by the appropriate entity: 1) the final budget for the upcoming fiscal year; 2) any audit performed at the end of each fiscal year; 3) any audit performed by a school district that is concurrent with what is filed with the State Department of Education; and 4) any audit performed concurrently by local law enforcement entities. This will allow the people of Georgia to investigate online not only how their local government is spending their money but how their local government is stacking up compared to other governments. The website is maintained by the Carl Vinson Institute at UGA.
Public Safety was at the forefront of legislation under the new House Speaker, David Ralston, from neighboring Blue Ridge. Some of these bills deserve to be mentioned again in this week’s column because of their importance. SR 277 is a Constitutional Amendment that will allow the voters in Georgia to decide if they wish to add a $10 trauma charge to their car tag fee. This fee will go into a dedicated fund exclusively for trauma care services throughout the state.
HB 23 makes it illegal for individuals under the age of 18 to use a mobile phone while driving. Your kids and grandkids will hate it, but if followed, more of them will make it safely to adulthood.
SB 360 makes it illegal for all drivers to write, send, or receive text-based messages on a mobile phone while driving. Again, many thanks to Sally Sorohan for her efforts in getting this legislation passed. It could very well be one of the most important pieces of legislation we passed this session.
Once again we need to mention that SB 458 eliminates the seat belt exemption for drivers of pick-up trucks, vans, and sports utility vehicles. Please, please, remember to “buckle up.”
As most of you know, this is an election year for local, state and national offices. I encourage each of you to vote in every election and run-off. We could have as many as five opportunities to vote for candidates of your choosing. I have run and won in several runoff elections and know the importance of every vote. Your participation in primaries, runoffs, and general elections is very important for good people to get elected.