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Focus on lowering spending

Current economic conditions have forced the Georgia House and Senate to spend the past two weeks focusing on ways to lower government spending.  Last year, when creating the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, the General Assembly reduced state spending by approximately $2.6 billion due to the economic downturn.  Unfortunately, we are still at a point where we must continue to cut services because of lagging revenues. 
Now, as we begin writing the FY 2011 state budget, we are faced with cutting another $1.05 billion from the state budget.  Over the past two weeks, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have held a series of joint meetings with state agencies and departments to discuss funding needs and possible ways to reach these necessary budget cuts. One such hearing, held by a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Higher Education, received a lot of attention lately due to a misunderstanding about funding for Georgia’s colleges and universities.
The Board of Regents, the governing body for all public colleges and universities in Georgia, reduced its budget from $2.3 billion in FY 2009 to $1.939 billion under the Governor’s recommendations for the FY 2011 budget.  Despite this decrease of $361 million, the funding for the Board of Regents still makes up 12 percent of the state budget.  These reductions required by the Regents are in line with other state agencies.
In order to determine the current state of Georgia’s colleges and universities, a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Higher Education asked the Chancellor of the Board of Regents to make a list of possible budget reductions that could be made by the Regents if the state was forced to cut an additional $300 million from the Regents’ budget.  The Chancellor then sent letters to the state’s 35 colleges and universities asking each to submit proposals for what their share of the $300 million in cuts would be based on the assumption that tuition would not increase.
Under the proposal submitted by the University of Georgia, the school recommended cutting half of the University’s Cooperative Extension Service offices throughout the state and eliminating all Georgia 4-H programs. Cutting these programs would save the university $11,304,861.  Other institutions chose to cut spending by reducing hours of operation for university libraries, limiting research funding, eliminating administrative positions, and merging various offices.
When these recommendations were made public, your concern and support for our 4-H program and Cooperative Extension Service became crucial to our efforts in the House to preserve funding for these important programs.
4-H continues to prove its worth as a tool to prepare our young people for the responsibilities of productive citizenship.  Thousands of our youth have completed their education as a result of their involvement in 4-H.  4-H continues to prove its worth to Georgians by encouraging our youth to develop leadership skills.
The Cooperative Extension Service provides an essential service to homeowners and farmers alike.    Production agriculture, Georgia’s number one industry, will suffer without the objective technical support provided by extension agents and our research facilities funded in the Cooperative Extension Service budget.
I believe your strong support and the support of the General Assembly have convinced Dr. Adams, the University of Georgia President, and our University System Board of Regents of the long-term benefits of 4-H and the Extension Service. 
I will continue to work with our state budget to preserve our investment in higher education, K-12 education, and great programs like the 4-H and Cooperative Extension Service.
Also this week, the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee unanimously passed House Bill 1094, the Georgia Water Stewardship Act of 2010.  This legislation will require the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and other agencies to examine their practices, programs, policies, rules, and regulations in order to develop programs and incentives to encourage voluntary water conservation and enhance the state’s water supply.  It will also require the use of high efficiency toilets, shower heads, and faucets in newly constructed buildings. 
As Governor Perdue negotiates with the governors of Florida and Alabama on the future of water rights, it is important that we responsibly manage our water resources.  Water conservation legislation like House Bill 1094 will not only save millions of gallons of water, but it will also continue to demonstrate that we know how to manage our natural resources, which will strengthen our position at the negotiating table.
Now that the two week budget focused recess has come to an end, it is important that I know the issues that are important to you and your family.  Monday, March 8 begins legislative day number twenty-one of our forty day session. As your State Representative, 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 email me at jon.burns@house.ga.gov.