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House approves $21 billion budget
Legislative update
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The House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve a $21.2 billion annual state budget for fiscal year 2009, which begins July 1. The total spending plan reflects a reduction of about $245 million from Gov. Sonny Perdue's original proposal due to lower revenues caused by the state's recent economic downturn.
As sent to the Senate, HB 990 would restore $90 million of the $141.5 million the governor proposed to cut from funding to local school systems. House members are reacting to the results of approximately $1.5 billion in such cuts over the past six years, which have forced local school boards to cut needed education programs or raise local property taxes, or both. I am opposed to the governor's plan to reduce teacher pay increases and supportive of efforts to restore any, and all, education cuts.
The plan also includes $50 million for the construction of drinking water reservoirs, $15 million for Georgia's airports, $10 million to fully fund equalization grants that go to low-income schools throughout the state, $7.3 million for charter schools, $2.9 million for salary increases for law enforcement officers in the Department of Natural Resources and $1 million for the Meals on Wheels program.
Earlier in the day, House members agreed to final changes to the midyear supplemental budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2008, which ends June 30. The $330 million adjustment includes $53 million for much-needed trauma care funding, $210 million for new school construction, $40 million for reservoirs and $2.7 million for the state's indigent defense system. School equalization grant funding of $20 million is also restored.
The Senate also agreed to the final version of HB 989, immediately transmitting the supplemental budget to the governor. Under the Constitution, he has six days to sign or veto the plan, or any line-item expenditures.
The issue of tax relief continues to dominate attention at the State Capitol, but with only six days remaining in the 2008 session, there is growing skepticism over whether the House and Senate can agree on a single tax-cut method. On March 11, House members approved HR 1246, which would eliminate all ad valorem taxes on automobiles, after Speaker Glenn Richardson removed provisions that took local revenue control away from local governments.
However, the Senate Finance Committee has rejected that plan and is instead moving forward on a proposed 10 percent reduction in state income tax rates over the next five years. The governor, meanwhile, has announced his opposition to both proposals for tax relief for Georgians this session. Whether the car tax is eliminated or the income tax is cut will likely depend on conference committee negotiations at the very end of the session.
In other action this week, House members voted 99-68 to approve legislation that would stiffen the penalties for driving without a license. Under SB 350, a person driving without a valid license could face from two days to 12 months in jail and pay a fine of $500 to $1,000. A fourth offense of driving without a license would be classified as a felony.
The legislation was promoted as targeting illegal immigrants who are repeat offenders of driving without a license, but concerns over the unintended consequences of jailing first-time offenders drew significant opposition.
The House also approved SB 359, which would create a "Made in Georgia" program, to be administered through the Department of Economic Development, for promoting the sale of products manufactured in our state.
On March 11, I was pleased to host three young members of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, who served as pages in the House of Representatives.  Courtney Lumpkin, Tajana Jones and Tanesha Parham were all fine representatives of the community as they interacted with House members and the public at the State Capitol, and I thank them for their service.
Lawmakers will reconvene Thursday, March 27, for the 35th day of the 2008 session.

Williams (D-Midway) represents the 165th District (Liberty  County) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA   30334; by phone at 404-656-6372, 404-326-2964, 912-977-5600 or by e-mail at

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