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Budget still dominating session

Legislative update

POSTED: March 2, 2009 10:37 a.m.
As the sixth week (24th legislative day) of Georgia’s legislative session wraps up, many necessary items on the agenda were accomplished. The House passed out the mid-year budget this week, which is a relief for some. Overall, the bills that were passed covered a wide variety of issues.  
The budget is always the number one item on the agenda for the legislative session. The supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal year beginning July 1, 2008 and ending June 30, 2009 was passed out of the House on Thursday by 168 to 5. The $18.9 billion midyear budget includes funding for the operation of state government, its departments, boards, bureaus, commissions, institutions and other agencies.  With the aid of federal money (around $145 million), we were able to avoid some difficult cuts; however, we still had to cut back.
Given the challenges and constraints of these economic times, the budget we passed was very reasonable. We tried to keep from hurting those that are most vulnerable in our society. As I’ve mentioned in previous reports, the economic situation we are in makes detailing the budget for the state of Georgia a very difficult task.  We had to make approximately $2.6 billion in cuts and it was not an easy choice.We realize that we are in hard times right now and we tried to restore funding that was necessary for the people. For instance, we funded the homeowner tax relief grants and other various programs, such as the Meals on Wheels, which many of our seniors rely on.  
Education is a priority and in the budget we tried to restore some of the funding for education. We realize how essential our local school systems are and how budget cuts can have drastic effects on our communities.  Now we will have to focus our attention to the next fiscal year which begins July 1.  
SB 31, the Nuclear Energy Financing Act passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 107 to 66.  This bill will allow Georgia Power to charge customers early to expand nuclear power reactors, saving approximately $300 million.  The average increase will be around $1.30 on each customer’s power bill. Allowing Georgia Power to pre-bill will save customers money.  It will allow Georgia Power to raise customer rates in increments over seven years, instead of raising rates at the time of construction, which would have been around 12.4 percent.
This bill will provide Georgia’s citizens with low cost and clean energy and in return will reduce the state’s reliance on coal and natural gas.  We are fortunate to have companies that are willing to invest in Georgia.  Since this bill has been passed by the House and Senate, it will now go to Governor Perdue.  
In 2008 we passed HB 1133 which provided an income tax credit to donations made to student scholarship organizations.  These organizations provide scholarships for those attending public schools to attend private schools.  HB 100 passed out of the House on Tuesday and it modifies the legislation previously passed.  We authorized SSOs to allow private school students to also be able to receive scholarships and tuition grants. HB 100 requires the SSO to obligate 90 percent of its annual revenue for scholarships and tuition grants.  This ensures that multi-year scholarships will be funded.  The SSO will have to verify this obligation.  To simplify the tax credit, we also changed the taxpayer’s contribution limit to the amount expended or 75 percent of the taxpayer’s income tax liability, whichever is less.
Also included in this bill were requirements regarding privacy protection for donors and the organization.  As legislators, we want to ensure that we clarify and perfect any previous legislation so we have the best, most comprehensive legislation that affects the people we represent.  
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you. Call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens ,228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at ron.stephens@house.ga.gov.
 

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