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Dedicating time to the budget

The budget was the focal point and our top priority this week. Although the General Assembly was not in session, our time consisted of attending and giving input during the subcommittee meetings of the Appropriations Committee. This week marks the end of the first of a two week recess.  Far from a recess or a break, we have to accomplish much as we devote all of our time toward the Fiscal Year 2011 budget. We must all join together and understand that the size of state government must be reduced.  We are waiting on incoming revenue figures, the estimate is that the state will potentially have a $1 billion budget shortfall for 2011. This will result in significant cuts to the budget; however, we will try to soften the cuts to the best of our ability.
Joint House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee meetings were held throughout the week to discuss the FY 2011 budget. The Joint Appropriations Subcommittee meetings held this week were:  Education, Public Safety, Health, Economic Development, Higher Education, Human Resources, and General Government. The heads of each department presented their budgets to the Subcommittees. We were given opportunities during these meetings to ask questions in relation to the specific parts of the budgets being presented. This allowed the Department to respond to the questions and also allow some input as to where they would like to see the cuts made. During many of the meetings the departments and agencies were asked about those employees nearing retirement and hinted at the possibility of some sort of retirement incentive. This would decrease the amount of money needed for the departments and agencies and would help to avoid impending layoffs.  Simply finding some savings will not be enough for what could possibly be a $1 billion shortfall for the state. Also, in regard to making cuts, the Departments offered suggestions and guidance for those cuts and how it would affect their individual departments. 
In addition to the Joint Appropriations Committee meetings, the various subcommittees of Appropriations in the House held work study sessions this week. With the shortfalls in revenues the state is experiencing, we have to come up with creative solutions to the budget crisis. Families across our state are struggling to make ends meet and are experiencing this economic downturn just as the state is. We all must realize that cuts to the budget are the solution to balancing the state’s budget. We are all going to have to give a little and the cuts will affect every citizen. Many constituents have called members of the General Assembly asking if we are also taking furloughs and the answer is emphatically “yes.”  We have all agreed to voluntarily take furlough days. We are in this recession together and the members will do our part. The practical solution is that the budget must be cut, slimmed down, and allocated to those programs and services that are most needed. 
Although the budget is our main priority, transportation and the funding for transportation continue to be a focus for the General Assembly and Governor Perdue.  The Governor’s Transportation plan, House Bill 1218, was heard for the first time in committee this week. This meeting on Governor Perdue’s transportation plan was only the first of many more to come. House Bill 1218 would divide the state into twelve regions and the voters in each region would have the opportunity to approve or reject a one cent sales tax which would be used for transportation projects in that region. Many questions were asked during the meeting and there are both proponents and opponents of the bill. I will be in Atlanta again next week working on the budget and the transportation bill as we strive to come up with viable solutions to our problems.
As I continue to review legislation and work with my colleagues on the state budget, I want to know the issues that are important to you and your family. I am always eager to hear your thoughts and concerns. Please feel free to call me with any questions or comments that you might have regarding our state. You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-5116 or by e-mailing at jon.burns@house.ga.gov
Thank you for your time.