On Jan. 12, the 150th legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly was gaveled open as members of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate were sworn in for our legislative duties. This process repeats itself every two years following the elections, and the winners of the 180 districts in the House and 56 districts in the Senate are seated to serve their district and state.
The first week is mainly an organizational week for the General Assembly as few bills are debated. It is used to elect the leadership of the House and assign the membership to the many standing committees. It is also used to develop strategies for tackling our biggest problems, mainly this year, a $2 billion shortfall in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget.
Also during the first week, the governor unveiled highlights in his amended fiscal year 2009 and his fiscal year 2010 budget recommendations. The General Assembly reviews two budgets a year. The first is the review of the FY 2009 budget which began July 1. In January, we began to review that budget to see if we are short funding for mandatory programs like education and healthcare. The second budget, or what we call the “big budget,” is used to set spending policy to fund the state government for the upcoming fiscal year. The governor each year introduces his mid-year corrections and his policy and program funding for the next year. The General Assembly is tasked with reviewing the budget and making changes where we see fit. It is part of the oversight responsibility that the citizens have to insure that the governor is doing the right thing.
The FY 2009 budget is set at $19.2 billion which includes a devastating $2.2 billion cut to most state agencies and programs. The FY 2010 budget is set at $20.2 billion. The state’s “rainy day fund” now stands at $1.2 billion. More details on the budget initiatives will be discussed in the upcoming weeks.
Some of the highlights unveiled in the governor’s state of the state speech included the requisite budget issues, as well as several key initiatives the governor wants to launch. Most notable of his various proposals was a decision to overhaul the Department of Human Resources. DHR is Georgia’s human service agency whose mission is to strengthen Georgia families by providing services through about 80 programs that ensure their health and welfare. Unfortunately, this department, by far the biggest in the state, has grown into a bureaucracy unto itself. DHR encompasses programs that help Georgians who suffer mental retardation, mental health problems, assistance to the poor and senior services. Many of these programs are very much needed, but the level of bureaucracy has made them unwieldy and limited their ability to best serve those that need the help.
After completing the first five days of this year’s session, the House and Senate broke for a week to begin budget hearings in front of joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. (Lawmakers reconvened this Monday) Most state agency directors will testify before the Joint Appropriations hearings to discuss their agencies and their priorities. In addition, it allows for your elected representation to ask questions regarding various programs and to ascertain their viability.
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you. If you would like to reach me, call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens, 228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at email@example.com.