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‘Break’ isn’t a break for Georgia legislators

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned on Thursday, Feb. 18, after day 20 of the 2010 legislative session.  The General Assembly has decided to take a two week break from the legislative session to work on the daunting task of balancing the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.  Although labeled a “break,” it is far from what will actually be taking place for the next few weeks.  The General Assembly will hold joint House and Senate Appropriation Committee meetings. The input from all of the members is both necessary and essential as we make difficult choices and decisions.  Working together with all of the members of the General Assembly, on both sides of the aisle, we will make it through these difficult budgetary times. This allows us to wait on the incoming February revenue figures and then make the decisions for how much more must be cut from the budget. All of our options are difficult and reducing the budget and making choices about where the cuts will be made is never an easy task. The budget outlook is distressing and alarming.
For the month of January, revenue declined for the 14th consecutive month, falling 8.7 percent for the month, compared to January of 2009.  We are looking at every option available to us for balancing the state budget. The burden is heavy, but it is a job that must be done.  As legislators, we want to assure the citizens that we have the best interests of the state and the taxpayers in mind when we make the decisions on how best to cut the current budget, while continuing to ensure that we are looking at every means possible to save money and reduce spending. 
Transparency within government is a fundamental principle which the Georgia General Assembly will continue to uphold. On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed House Bill 122 which requires counties and municipalities with an annual budget larger than $1 million to make their annual budget report available online for the public to view.
Voting is a right guaranteed to the citizens of the United States.  Through elections, we get to make our own choices about who we believe would be the best candidate to represent us. With the advancement of technology, the election process for those that are in the military and overseas should be a simple, yet effective, process.  The House passed House Bill 655 which establishes a pilot program beginning with the 2012 general and primary elections to allow the electronic transmission of absentee ballots by those in the military and for overseas citizens. By establishing a pilot program, we will be able to test the process, improve upon it, and make voting easier, especially for those in the military and/or are out of the country.
Due to tough economic times, our school systems are also making cuts and tightening their budgets. Unanimously passed by the House, House Bill 977 makes some changes to the Quality Basic Education Act in regard to the salaries of local school administrators and/or superintendents.  Although most school boards have good intentions, we want to ensure fairness and equality for all employees.  The bill prohibits the use of state funds for salary increases for administrators’ pay during a year in which the local board of education has had to furlough teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, support staff, or any other non-administrative position.  This does not apply to any step increases on the state salary schedule which are applicable to a superintendent or administrator.  If a school board tries to raise the pay of the superintendent or an administrator through the use of private or other non-state funds, then they must make the public aware by holding hearings to explain their reasoning.
Over the next two weeks as my colleagues and I delve into the budget line by line, please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions or comments.  You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-5116 or email me at jon.burns@house.ga.gov.  Thank you for your time.