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State budget cuts will be painful

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POSTED: February 24, 2010 11:49 a.m.
The Georgia General Assembly adjourned last Thursday, after day 20 of the 2010 legislative session. The Assembly has decided to take a two-week break from the legislative session to work on the daunting task of balancing the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.
Although labeled a “break,” it is far from what will actually be taking place for the next few weeks. The General Assembly will hold joint House and Senate Appropriation Committee meetings. The input from all of the members is both necessary and essential as we make difficult choices and decisions.
Working together with all of the members of the General Assembly, on both sides of the aisle, we will make it through these difficult budgetary times. This allows us to wait on the incoming February revenue figures and then make the decisions for how much more must be cut from the budget.
All of our options are difficult and reducing the budget and making choices about where the cuts will be made is never an easy task.
The budget outlook is distressing and alarming. For the month of January, revenue declined for the fourteenth consecutive month, falling 8.7 percent for the month, compared to January of 2009. The legislators are looking at every option available to us for balancing the state budget. The burden is heavy, but it is a job that must be done.
As legislators, we want to assure the citizens that we have the best interests of the state and the taxpayers in mind when we make the decisions of how best to cut the current budget, while continuing to ensure that we are looking at every means possible to save money and reduce spending.
Transparency within government is a fundamental principle which the Georgia General Assembly will continue to uphold. On February 16, the House unanimously passed House Bill 122 which requires counties and municipalities with an annual budget larger than $1 million to make their annual budget and report available online for the public.
Voting is a right guaranteed to the citizens of the United States. Through elections, we get to make our own choices about who we believe would be the best candidate to represent us. With the advancement of technology, the election process for those that are in the military and overseas should be a simple, yet effective, process.
The House passed House Bill 655 which establishes a pilot program beginning with the 2012 general and primary elections to allow the electronic transmission of absentee ballots by those in the military and for overseas citizens. By establishing a pilot program, we will be able to test the process, improve upon it, and make voting easier, especially for those in the military and/or are out of the country.
Due to tough economic times, our school systems are also making cuts and tightening their budgets. Unanimously passed by the House, HB 977 makes some changes to the Quality Basic Education Act in regard to the salaries of local school administrators and/or superintendants. Although most school boards have good intentions, we want to ensure fairness and equality for all employees.
The bill prohibits the use of state funds for salary increases for administrators’ pay during a year in which the local board of education has had to furlough teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, support staff, or any other non-administrative position. In regards to fairness, this legislation is needed.
If the school boards are forcing those within the school system to take furlough days, we want to make certain and prevent administrators from taking salary increases when other employees are losing money. When appropriating cuts in the budget, all levels of education should continue to be mindful of all of those it could have the potential of affecting.
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you.

You can reach Stephens by calling at (404) 656-5099 or writing State Rep. Ron Stephens, 228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mailing ron.stephens@house.ga.gov
 

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