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Keeping an eye on the future and reflecting on others

We concluded our 10th day of the session on Feb. 3. The committee process is in full swing as we have begun consideration of new legislation. The House Appropriations subcommittees delved further into the state budgets.  These meeting have begun to show that zero-based budgeting and the HOPE program will receive a great deal of attention throughout the remainder of this session.  With that in mind, I would like to take a moment to let you know a little about both of these issues.
Over the last 10 years, our state population grew by 18.3 percent, but in just the past two fiscal years we have been forced to cut our state budget by nearly $4 billion.  These latest cuts will require the General Assembly to utilize enhanced methods of examining state budgets, identifying inefficiencies, and eliminating potential waste. Zero-based budgeting is one of those methods.
Georgia currently uses a continuation budgeting method, which requires state agencies to specifically detail only new spending. Zero-based budgeting would change this process by requiring one-quarter of state agencies to itemize their entire budget on a four year rotation. As a result, the entire state budget would be analyzed every four years, allowing state legislators to scrutinize every dollar of taxpayer money and ensure its proper and efficient use. 
You may have heard that the Senate recently voted to override Governor Perdue’s veto of Senate Bill 1, a zero-based budget bill from the 2010 legislative session.  The House and Senate passed the bill last year, but Governor Perdue was not in favor of the bill so he vetoed it.  Then, this year, the Senate chose to override that veto. If the House were to join the Senate and support this veto override and allow 2010’s SB 1 to become law, it is the House’s position that our new Governor would be in immediate violation of that law.  This is because SB 1 applies to the budgets that Gov. Deal submitted to the House just a few weeks ago.  Rather than fighting yesterday’s battles with the former governor, Speaker Ralston’s solution is to cooperate with the new governor, who supports the principles of zero-based budgeting. I support the Speaker’s position, and welcome HB33, the new zero-based budget bill, for consideration.
Another challenge we face this session is finding a way to sustain the lottery funded pre-K and HOPE programs.  The overwhelming success of these programs makes this problem particularly troubling. For example, since its creation in 1993, the HOPE Scholarship has helped send 1.4 million Georgia high school students to college. Clearly, the continuation of these lottery-funded programs is vital to the future prosperity of this state.  However, lottery proceeds have reached a plateau, while the demand for these programs continues to rise.  As a result, over the past several years Georgia’s pre-K and HOPE programs have paid out more than the lottery has brought in. If this continues, all reserve funds for these programs will be depleted by Fiscal Year 2013. To ensure this does not happen, reforms to these programs are carefully being considered during the current legislative session. Please rest assured that I am keeping a close eye on this issue and will work to maintain the continued success of our pre-K and HOPE programs.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to two outstanding Georgians who are no longer with us, but leave behind a legacy of service to the state of Georgia. This week the House honored the life and memory of Georgia State Trooper Chadwick T. LeCroy and State Representative Tony Sellier.  
Trooper LeCroy was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 27, 2010. As a husband, father, and officer, Trooper LeCroy was highly regarded by his community and state as a person of unquestioned integrity and dedication to the sound principles of law enforcement.  In recognition of the ultimate sacrifice he made in the call of duty, Trooper LeCroy was posthumously promoted to the rank of corporal by Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, Colonel Bill Hitchens.  (I am proud to know that Col. Hitchens is an Effingham native.)  This marks only the second time in the Georgia State Patrol’s 74-year history that an officer has received such an honor. The Georgia House of Representatives honored Trooper LeCroy and his family with the passing of House Resolution 96.
State Representative Tony Sellier was a humble servant of middle Georgia. Originally born in Port-a-Pierre, Trinidad, Rep. Sellier moved to the United States in the early 1960s and became a United States citizen in 1973. From that time on, he lived with a vocal and unmistakable pride in being an American. He was elected to the state House in 2006 and served his constituents in Crawford, Bibb, Houston, Lamar, Monroe, Peach, and Upson counties until his death in November of 2010.  He was a kind and hardworking representative, earning him the respect and friendship of every member of the House.  We honored our friend by presenting his wife, Judye and his family with House Resolution 136 in honor of his service to the House of Representatives and to our state.
As I continue to represent our community, I would like to hear any questions or concerns you may have about issues affecting our local area as well as our state as a whole.  You can reach me at my capitol office at 404-656-5099.  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.