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House adopts FY2008 budget

Legislative update

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POSTED: May 3, 2007 5:02 a.m.
The House of Representatives adopted a $20.2 billion state budget for fiscal year 2008 that begins July 1, 2007. The budget represents a 5.7 percent increase in spending over last year’s budget and dedicates $792 million to the state’s revenue shortfall reserve fund.
The budget measure (HB 95) does reduce the $140 million in austerity cuts to K-12 education that the governor proposed in his budget proposal to $100 million. However, this comes after $1.25 billion in school cuts during his first term as governor.
Gov. Perdue’s school cuts have also driven up property taxes in nearly 100 school districts around the state.
Also included in the spending plan:
• $18 million for the governor’s “Go Fish Program,”
• $5 million to promote charter schools,
• $3.5 million to buy 100 new state trooper cars,
• $6 million for community grants, and
• $650,000 for the state ethics commission
HB 95 now goes to the Senate for approval.
Congressman Jim Marshall of Macon came to visit the state House on April 10 and report on activities in Washington, D.C.
Marshall is an attorney, the former mayor of Macon and a Vietnam veteran who has been named to the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
In addressing lawmakers, he applauded efforts by the General Assembly to keep the PeachCare for Kids Program stable and said it will be funded fully by Congress at the current level or even more. This was an indirect way of saying to the Georgia House that any cuts to the program that reduce eligibility and add to the rolls of the uninsured in the name of saving the program financially are unnecessary.
Earlier this session, the House adopted HB 340 along a party line vote that reduces the number of families that could get health insurance for their children by lowering the eligibility for PeachCare for Kids from 235 percent of the federal poverty level to 200 percent. Estimates indicate this could deny thousands of children the health care coverage they need.
An agreement was reached on HB 94, the supplemental budget for fiscal year 2007 that ends June 30. This week, a conference committee reached an agreement that strips out all “special projects” and would instead return the funds back to the taxpayers in the form of a $142 million property tax cut.  Exactly how those funds will be distributed to the taxpayers remains under discussion.
The tax cut increases the homestead property tax exemption put in place by former Gov. Roy Barnes from $10,000 to $12,750. HB 94 does continue to earmark funds for critical areas such as $194 million for a 2.65 percent jump in K-12 school enrollment; $81 million for the PeachCare for Kids Program; $11 million in disaster relief for the city of Americus that was hit by a devastating tornado; $40 million to assist in the startup of the new KIA Plant in West Georgia; and $9 million for the public defenders system.
There was immediate concern the proposed property tax relief may force the state’s adult literacy program to lay off all 246 instructors for two months, but after intense questioning, the leadership appeared to be working out that situation.
Last week, the House Higher Education Committee heard testimony on HB 154, the intellectual diversity bill. If passed, the bill would require all institutions under the control of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia to submit annual reports to the General Assembly on their efforts toward intellectual diversity.
Supporters said it’s needed to protect college students from being chastised, intimidated and threatened for their dissenting points of view. Opponents consider the proposal needless political meddling.
The House Economic Development & Tourism Committee approved a package of Senate-passed bills designed to authorize infrastructure development districts labeled “private cities” by critics in Georgia.
SR 309 calls for a referendum to amend the constitution authorizing the General Assembly to establish the creation and comprehensive regulation of infrastructure development districts.
SB 200 is the proposed law governing the districts.
This is scheduled to be the final week of the 2007 session of the General Assembly, with “sine die” adjournment coming Friday.

Williams (D-Midway) represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, Ga, 30334; by phone at (404) 656-6372, (404) 326-2964, (912) 977-5600 or by email at al.williams@house.ga.gov
 

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