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Reviewing Gov. Deal’s budget recommendations

During the first week of the General Assembly’s 2011 legislative session, Gov. Nathan Deal delivered his State of the State Address and presented his amended budget for the Fiscal Year 2011 and the Fiscal Year 2012. 
This week the House and Senate appropriations committees began the arduous process of reviewing the governor’s budget recommendations and making them into the actual legislation that will ultimately guide all state spending. The process started on Tuesday, Jan. 18, with a week’s worth of joint appropriations committee meetings. Gov. Deal led the presentations by detailing the major highlights of his budget proposals. 
The governor was then followed by the leaders of our state agencies, each of whom explained their agency’s budgets and answered questions from House and Senate members.
Because state revenues for FY 2011 are lower than expected, Gov. Deal reduced the FY 2011 budget by more than $27.5 million. To accomplish this, most state agencies will cut spending by 4 percent for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30 of this year. The savings from these budget cuts will allow us to continue funding Medicaid, economic development efforts that bring jobs to Georgia, and disproportionate share hospitals, which are hospitals that treat a high number of uninsured individuals. 
Despite these cuts, the governor suggested that 1 percent of the Revenue Shortfall Reserve, also known as the “rainy day fund,” be used to continue current funding for K-12 education. He also recommended no reductions for Quality Basic Education (QBE), the Equalization Grant and state school spending. 
While Georgia’s economic conditions have stabilized and continue to improve, state revenues grow at only modest levels. With this in mind, Gov. Deal set the FY 2012 state revenue estimates at a modest 3.75 percent increase over the amended 2011 state budget recommendations. Even with this slight increase in state revenues, the greatest challenge for the 2012 budget will be filling a $1 billion hole left by expiring federal stimulus funds. To do this and maintain a balanced state budget, we will have to further reduce spending by state agencies at an average of 7 percent for the next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2012. These agency cuts are not uniform and are designed to prioritize funding to core responsibilities. For example, the governor’s proposal for FY 2012 actually includes a net increase of $30 million in K-12 formula funding.
Despite a continued need for additional budget cuts, there is good news to be reported about the state of our economy. I’m happy to let you know that not only are more Georgians working now than this time last year, but they are also making more money. Wage and salary incomes have grown in each of the last two quarters. Georgians also are spending more; as seen by the fact that Georgia consumer spending is up almost 5 percent for the first six months of this fiscal year.  Overall, our economic recovery is strengthening with sturdy manufacturing growth, increasing consumer spending, and labor markets finally adding jobs.
Now that this week’s joint appropriations committee meetings have ended, my fellow state representatives and I will spend the next few days reviewing the finer details of the Amended FY 2011 and FY 2012 state budgets.  Then, since all fiscal bills are required to originate in the House of Representatives, the House Appropriations subcommittees will begin to delve even further into the governor’s budget proposals. Once the subcommittees pass their respective portions of the budget, the whole House Appropriations Committee will review and pass balanced budgets for both the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011 and upcoming Fiscal Year 2012.
After the House Appropriations Committee passes the budget, it will go to the House Rules Committee and be placed on the House calendar. It then will go to the House floor, where every member of the House will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on how the state is spending your taxpayer dollars. We will then vote to approve or reject the state budget.
Once the budget passes the House, it will go the state Senate and repeat this same committee process. After making its way through the Senate Appropriations subcommittees, the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Senate floor vote, the budget will then come back to the House.  At this point in the process, the Speaker of the House and Lt. Governor will both appoint a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget.
The House and Senate will then vote on the conference committee’s version of the budget. This is key because the House and Senate must completely agree on all contents of the legislation before it can be sent to the Governor’s desk for consideration. Once signed by Gov. Deal, the budget becomes law. Though complicated, all legislation must go through this process before becoming law.
In addition to beginning work on the state budgets this week, I also received my legislative office assignment at the state capitol. My new capitol office address is: 18 Capitol Square, Room 228 State Capitol, Atlanta GA 30334.  Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session. I’d love to see you and hear any questions or concerns you may have about issues facing our state. You can also call my capitol office at 404-656-5099 or email me at jon.burns@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

Jon Burns represents Screven County as part of his District 157 of the Georgia State House of Representatives.