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Lawmakers will have to cut budget

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POSTED: January 8, 2010 11:35 a.m.
As we start of a new year and another legislative session, it is time for us as legislators to focus on setting our agenda for the 2010 session. The budget will be our priority during the session. Other areas we will focus on include transportation funding, water concerns, and ethics reform.  
With declining revenue figures throughout the year of 2009, it was a surprise to many that we were not called in for a special session to sort out our budget shortfalls.
The budget deficits we are facing can be attributed to a weak economy and decreasing tax and revenue collections. In Georgia, the constitution requires that we have a balanced budget.
The revenue estimates for the upcoming budget are based partly upon the incoming revenue numbers from the previous year.  Due to revenue declining drastically throughout 2009, we have been faced with a budget shortfall.
Luckily, we were able to use reserve funds and some federal stimulus funds to account for the nearly $2.3 billion budget deficit.  In addition to that, for fiscal year 2010, the state was able to save around $35 million due to a lower interest rate on bonds. Georgia’s strong bond rating saved the state, and Georgians, money.
Just as we balance our checkbook and make sure the amount we spend does not exceed the amount we have, the state has to do the same. Difficult choices are being made daily as the people in Georgia tighten their budgets and focus on the essentials.
The mid-year reconciliation budget for fiscal year 2010 and the new fiscal year budget for 2011 will be some of the toughest the state has ever had to handle as we have to reduce state spending. It is a fiscal crisis that we will have to manage.
As legislators, we are going to have to come together and decide where the cuts will be made. The decisions are not going to be easy.  We have to decide what the essentials are in terms of programs and services and decide where cuts can be made. As Republicans, we are committed to not raising taxes on the people of our state. Therefore, cutting and reducing our state budget is the only solution to the budget shortfall.
Water is an essential part of our life and a resource we often take for granted. Conserving water, ensuring water supply and developing long term solutions have become a main focus of this session. Through 2008 and into 2009, Georgia was facing a historic and severe drought.  In some areas, people were either banned from outdoor watering or put on watering restrictions.
Midway through the year, we were fortunate enough to receive generous rainfall and our water levels rose. In addition to this, the U.S. District Court has limited the state’s access to water at Lake Lanier. The governor created a Water Contingency Task Force in September to address the water issues and to offer recommendations.  The task force has recommended what it refers to as the “3Cs” in relation to water: conserve, capture and control. Gov. Perdue met in December with the governors of Florida and Alabama to try and come up with an agreement on how to share the water. As legislators, we must also do our part to preserve our water resources and also to come up with long terms solutions.
Transportation is always a priority for the Georgia General Assembly. Last year, there were two different transportation funding bills, but neither passed. Although both pieces of legislation intended to fund transportation, an agreement could not be made on whether it should include a regional or a statewide one-cent plan. We need a solution for funding transportation statewide.  Especially since we are facing a budget dilemma, transportation policy and funding is at the top of our list. Alternative means to funding transportation will be explored, especially as our state budget continues to decrease.
Traffic and congestion continues to be a problem, especially in metro Atlanta. We also need a broader road system to allow rural communities to create economic development opportunities. In Georgia we need solutions statewide. Transportation affects everyone. As legislators, we have to prioritize transportation projects across the state but also remain fiscally conservative.
The Republican members of the House Caucus have elected new leadership and our new leadership team will set and implement priorities for the session. The changes include a new speaker of the House, Rep. David Ralston; speaker pro tem, Rep. Jan Jones, and majority whip, Rep. Edward Lindsey.
Our leadership will make ethics reform a priority. As legislators, it is our obligation to both our constituents and citizens statewide to uphold and maintain both our ethics and our values. Unfortunately, the actions of a few can sometimes reflect poorly on the whole. Personally, I believe the poor actions of one legislator should not reflect on the rest of the legislators. We are all individuals and we are all accountable to ourselves, our families and our constituents. Therefore, we are going to take the steps to ensure that upholding our ethical values is maintained by the members of our General Assembly. We will explore different options and bills and will reach a consensus on the best solution for ethics reform.
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you.

Stephens, R-Savannah, represents District 164, which covers the Fleming area of Liberty County. You can call him at (404) 656-5099 or write: State Rep. Ron Stephens ,228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail ron.stephens@house.ga.gov.
 

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