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Senate approves $17.4 billion supplemental state budget

The Georgia Senate voted Thursday to approve a $17.4 billion amended state budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2010, which ends June 30. The revised budget is reduced by $1.2 billion from the original budget for this year and reflects a 23 percent decline in state revenues over the past two years.
The Senate version of HB 947 rejects an attempt by Gov. Sonny Perdue to take $33 million in lottery revenues out of the HOPE Scholarship program to pay for other scholarships currently funded by general revenues and restores $17.4 million in state equalization grants to low-wealth school districts, which the governor had proposed to eliminate.
The Senate also added $1.8 million to the Department of Revenue budget for the hiring of more employees to process income tax returns and avoid repeating last year’s severe delays in refunds to taxpayers and delays until next year the payment of $14 million to private “disproportionate share” hospitals to compensate them for medical treatment of indigent patients.
Unfortunately, HB 947 cuts another $281 million in Quality Basic Education funding to local school systems, bringing the total school cuts under the Perdue administration to almost $2.5 billion. These cuts short-change our public school students and force property owners to make up the difference in higher local school taxes. The budget also forces teachers and other state employees to take three additional unpaid furlough days between now and June 30.
HB 947 now goes to a conference committee to resolve differences in the Senate and House of Representatives versions of the budget.
Long Adjournment: Immediately after adopting the 2010 supplemental budget, the Senate voted 35-17 to take an 18-day recess for the stated purpose of allowing Appropriations Committee members to give undivided attention to the fiscal year 2011 budget. Continued declines in revenues have lawmakers genuinely concerned over Gov. Perdue’s rosy forecast of a 4.2 percent budget increase for next year. I voted against the adjournment resolution because, in addition to the budget, the state has major problems to be addressed. The legislature should remain in session and work overtime on a daily basis, if necessary, to do the people’s business. But a majority went along with the proposal, and the full Senate and House are now in official recess until March 8.
Economic Development: Legislation that would create an economic development council of state lawmakers to evaluate all state-funded activities that support Georgia’s economic development strategy received unanimous approval in the Senate. SB 374 would establish a council of Senators and House members for the purpose of reviewing current goals, tax exemptions and credits, as well as activities and expenditures of the Department of Economic Development. The bill is now under consideration in the House.
Kidney Patients: The Senate voted unanimously to approve legislation that would allow persons who are under age 65 but eligible for Medicare because of disability or end-stage kidney disease to purchase Medicare supplemental health insurance. SB 316 is primarily intended to help kidney patients pay expenses for dialysis treatments. It would also save the state $20 million over five years. SB 316 now goes to the House for its consideration.
 
Sen. J.B. Powell (D-Blythe) represents the 23rd District (Burke, Emanuel, Jefferson, Jenkins, Richmond, Screven, Washington and Wilkinson counties) in the Georgia State Senate. During the legislative session, contact him at 320-A Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, Ga., 30334; by phone at 404-463-1314 or by e-mail at jb.powell@senate.ga.gov.