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Fewer state revenues means more cuts

After taking two weeks to closely examine the state’s budget, the Georgia House of Representatives reconvened on Monday, March 8. The week began with an announcement by Governor Perdue that state revenue collections for the month of February were down once again.  From February 2008 to February 2010, Georgia has had a 41.3 percent drop in revenue. This means that $1.1 billion must be cut for the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.  The current budget must also be reduced an additional $342 million more than projected by the Governor.  While the state was improving and doing well, we were able to expand services and increase our budget.  Now times are tough and we have to make some difficult decisions as our budget goes back to the level it was in 2005 and 2006.
In addition to passing a responsible, balanced budget for Georgia, we also remain focused on other vital issues facing our state.  This includes ensuring that Georgia has a sufficient, sustainable water supply.  With this in mind, I supported the passage of House Bill 1094, the Georgia Water Stewardship Act. 
The Georgia Water Stewardship Act will require state agencies and commissions to examine their practices, programs, policies, rules, and regulations in an effort to ensure our state has an adequate water supply.  One specific measure limits the hours of outdoor watering and irrigation from 4:00 PM to 10:00 AM, with some exceptions for farming, irrigation of personal food gardens and reuse of gray water. 
The Act also requires the installation of high efficiency plumbing fixtures in newly constructed buildings and that new multi-unit residential, retail, and light industry buildings constructed in the state measure water use on an individual unit by unit basis.
This week, we also recognized a monumental leader in Georgia history, former Speaker of the House, Thomas B. Murphy.  On Wednesday, March 10th, Speaker Murphy’s family and many former House members were invited to the House of Representatives for a portrait unveiling ceremony honoring this worthy Georgian. At the conclusion of the event, the portrait was placed along the wall by the main entrance to the House floor.  It was an honor to take part in this historic moment recognizing Speaker Murphy’s contributions to this great nation and state.  When Speaker Murphy left office, he was the longest serving Speaker of any state legislature in the United States.  In addition to his service as Speaker of the House from 1973-2002, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Several other pieces of legislation passed the House this week.  With the budget still on all of our minds, legislation that improves the operation of our state is also of importance.  House Bill 1135 passed out of the House this week which would allow the Department of Transportation (DOT) to enter into multi-year contracts in one year increments.  Currently, the funds for a project for DOT must be available before a contract is signed; however, this will allow the DOT to sign the contract and obligate the funds for it and thereby improving efficiency and appropriated the funds responsibly.  Relating to the payment for teacher’s certification fees, the House passed HB 1079 which allows additional payment methods of credit or debit cards to pay those fees.  Currently only a check or money order can be used and by allowing other forms, it makes it more convenient for our teachers.  Another bill related to education passed this week was HB 1013 which would require school boards to publish in the newspaper an annual summary of their sales tax for education (ESPLOST).  This is already required by cities and counties that receive special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) and to ensure transparency in both, the boards of education should also be required to do the same. 
As we determine how to manage the state’s budget and vote on other legislation, I want to know how you and your family feel about the issues affecting our state.  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 at jon.burns@house.ga.gov.   Thank you for your  time.