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House majority OKs more cuts to schools

Legislative update

POSTED: February 17, 2010 1:37 p.m.
A majority of the House of Representatives Thursday approved an amended state budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2010. Overall state spending is reduced by $1.2 billion to reflect that state revenues have declined for 14 consecutive months.
In HB 947, the $17.4 billion budget plan includes spending cuts of 8 percent in most state agencies and three more unpaid furlough days for public school teachers and other state employees between now and June 30. Earlier this week, it was reported that state revenue collections fell by another $137 million in January, bringing the decline for the first seven months of this fiscal year to $1.28 billion, nearly 13 percent off from last year.
The few areas of the House version of the budget where spending is increased include $5.9 million to the Department of Community Health for the Indigent Care Trust Fund for disproportionate share hospitals and $169,000 for the Department of Revenue to hire six investigative agents and four financial analysts for the agency’s fraud detection group. These new employees would start work April 1 in an effort to bring in more uncollected tax revenue.
The House budget also does not include Gov. Sonny Perdue’s effort to take $33 million in lottery revenues away from the HOPE Scholarship program and use that money for other scholarships that are presently funded out of the general treasury. The measure also puts back $17.4 million for equalization grants to low-wealth school districts that the governor proposed to cut.
However, I voted against HB 947 because it cuts an additional $281 million from Quality Basic Education funding to local school systems, bringing the total reduction in local school funding under the Perdue administration to nearly $2.5 billion. This not only shortchanges our students, it forces local boards of education to raise local property taxes in order to make up the difference.
While overall cuts are necessary, this budget again reflects the wrong priorities. I cannot support additional cuts to public education without first looking at the special-interest tax breaks that are a major factor in the revenue shortfall. The budget now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Sales tax collections: House Democrats introduced legislation last week aimed at recovering sales revenues that consumers are paying but are not being collected by the state. HB 1137 would require cities and counties to collect information that identifies businesses and turn that data over to the state revenue department, which in turn would provide local governments a list of businesses that have sales tax identification numbers. The matching of data would enable the state to zero in on businesses that are not turning over sales tax money, generating revenues without raising tax rates. HB 1137 is under consideration in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Education spending waiver: The House majority voted Tuesday to waive state regulations on how local school boards spend state funds over the next three years. HB 908, which now goes to the Senate for consideration is intended to provide flexibility during current economic conditions and in light of budget cutbacks. However, I believe this is a policy that should be considered on a year-to-year basis rather than for three years. I voted against HB 908 because the House leadership refused to allow the measure to be amended to one year instead of three.
Transportation funding: In addition to the Transportation Jobs Development Act proposed two weeks ago by House Democrats, bipartisan legislation was proposed last week that would set aside 25 percent of any future increases in the state’s general sales tax revenues for transportation purposes. Had this plan been in place over the past 10 years, it would have generated approximately $1.5 billion for transportation. HR 1358 was referred to the House Transportation Committee.
Business identity theft: House members voted unanimously to approve legislation that would allow businesses to be treated the same as individuals by prosecutors when they are victims under state laws on identity theft. HB 1016 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Williams represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House. Contact him during the legislative session at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA, 30334; by phone at (404) 656-6372; or by e-mail at al.williams@house.ga.gov.
 

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