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State revenues up for first time since 2008

This week Governor Perdue released the March 2010 revenue figures, and I am encouraged that they showed the first monthly increase in state revenues since November 2008.  This is an increase of $10,523,000 compared to March 2009 – the same time a year ago.  While this is a positive sign for Georgia’s economy, it is not enough to fill the hole in our state budget.  Revenues are still down 11.5 percent in Fiscal Year 2010 compared to FY 2009.
Over the last year, the General Assembly has drastically cut state spending in order to maintain a balanced budget.  As a result of these cuts, if adjusted for population per capita, the FY 2011 budget will be near FY 2000 levels.  While these cuts have made for a leaner state government, they will not fill the budget gap alone.  For this reason, the Georgia House passed a series of bills to shore up our state’s Medicaid program and begin charging the fair market value on fees for services provided by the state.
The first of these bills was House Bill 307.  This legislation creates a partnership between Georgia’s hospitals and state government in an effort to close the Medicaid shortfall, which is in the hundreds of millions that our state is facing.  It will accomplish this by implementing a temporary provider fee on certain hospitals to provide funding for the most vulnerable among us.  The plan has the support of the Georgia Hospital Association, the Georgia Alliance of Community Health, and Hometown Health.  Together, these organizations represent hospitals throughout the state.  This voluntary, self-imposed payment agreement will allow the state to draw down federal Medicaid dollars by a three to one ratio, while also preventing a possible 10.25 percent Medicaid rate cut to physicians and hospitals.  A rate cut of that size could be devastating for many of Georgia’s hospitals.
House Bill 1055 is another bill that will help our state close the budget gap and prevent major cuts to education, public safety and other state programs.  This bill corrects inconsistencies in various fees that are charged by the state.  Currently, some fees cover the cost of their respective service, while other fees fall incredibly short of covering the cost.  Some state fees are regularly updated while others have not been adjusted in over 50 years.  HB 1055 corrects these loopholes and brings all fees in Georgia up-to-date.  Some examples of fees included in HB 1055 are an annual Lobbyist Registration fee and a DUI Administrative fee.  Updates like this will get the state of Georgia out of the business of subsidizing services that should not be paid for by state dollars.
As we work to cut spending and close the budget gap, we must also make efforts to provide fairness to our tax payers.  House Bill 1139 provides a method to grant every property owner the ability to appeal their property taxes, even in years that the assessed value does not change.  Each ad valorem property tax bill shall contain a check box that, if marked, will allow the tax payer to declare their assertion of their property’s value and to appeal the value set by the county. This is especially important in this economy where property values are falling. 
House Bill 903 is an effort to keep our pro football franchise here in Georgia.  This legislation is an extension of Atlanta’s hotel/motel tax from the year 2020 to 2050. It provides a certainty in funding which will allow discussions between the Georgia World Congress Center and the Atlanta Falcons to continue in earnest toward the construction of a new playing facility in downtown Atlanta.    These discussions will have a direct, positive impact on the continued agreement between the state of Georgia and the Falcon’s organization which could ultimately benefit the entire state.
All of these bills have passed the state House. They are vitally necessary to closing our state’s budget shortfall and passing a balanced FY 2011 state budget. I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will quickly see their need and work to get them to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible.
Last week the Georgia General Assembly recessed to work on the budget and review pending legislation.  As we return to the state Capitol, I hope that you will contact me with any concerns you may 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. Thank you for your time.