Gov.-elect Nathan Deal has surveyed the state government’s bleak financial outlook and declared that layoffs of state employees will be part of the answer to closing a nearly $2 billion hole in next year’s budget.
“I think you will see a downsizing starting with the executive branch,” Deal said after a speech to the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce.
Deal honed in on the core of the problems he faces, saying, “We allow government to grow because we only have good intentions.” He also took the unusual step of calling on the gathering of 700 business and civic leaders to “step into the breach” and support programs the government may have to give up, although he did not offer specifics.
And ironically, on the heels of Deal’s comments, the state Labor Department released a report showing Georgia’s unemployment rate rose to 10.1 percent in November from 9.8 percent in October — the 38th straight month it has exceeded the national rate, currently 9.8 percent.
Talk about problems. Deal will have to deal with not only shrunken revenues and a budget hole but financing of the huge Medicaid, transportation and educational programs that account for giant portions of state spending. In addition, the HOPE scholarship program is in deficit mode. On top of that, the state owes the federal government almost half a billion dollars for a loan to the unemployment trust fund. Worse, if it’s repaid late, Georgia employers will forfeit tax credits and costs of the program will rise.
As for the state’s mounting transportation needs, Deal said a proposed rapid rail system could bring federal funds to the state but he called instead for a focus on the proposed regional sales tax that will be up for a vote in 2012 as a way to help with the funding needs. At the same time, he acknowledged, “It’s not going to be easy. It is a very hard time to convince people to pay any more for taxes.”
On that point, he is right on target. And for our next governor, it is a very hard time to take on the duties of Georgia’s chief executive. To his credit, he apparently realizes there are tough days ahead and is preparing for them.
— Newnan Times-Herald