There is a common saying about government and politicians that government never acts until after there is a crisis. Unfortunately, you don't have to look hard to find examples of this. Just look at the prices at our gas pumps. Gas prices did not climb above $4 a gallon over night. For the past several years, Republicans in Congress have submitted an energy plan that focuses not only on developing new renewable energy sources, but also would allow for us to maximize the resources we already have. Leaders in the U.S. Senate have continuously blocked these efforts. We have not built a refinery since the 1970s, and we are literally sitting on oil resources that the current leadership in Congress is blocking from being tapped into. That is not leadership - that is politics as usual.
Leadership requires tough decisions and sacrifices. Here in Georgia we have done just that. Instead of waiting for situations to happen and reacting to them, we have worked hard to avert and prepare for them beforehand. This past week, the state reported that due to the national economic slow down, state revenue for the month of May was down 31.1 percent or $666 million compared with this time last year. The good news is that because the legislature worked hard to keep spending low and put away money in the state's reserve fund, Georgia is well positioned to weather this time of economic readjustment. This did not happen by accident, but by purposeful and principled leadership. This was part of the commitment we made to the citizens of Georgia that we would cut spending, limit the size and growth of government and make government more efficient and accountable with the taxpayers' money.
One of piece of legislation that the Senate has worked hard on would require state government to limit increased spending to inflation and population growth. I am proud that without even having this put into law (yet), we have kept the growth of government and spending within those limits. It would have been easy to spend the state's surplus on pet projects and pork, but because we made the tough decisions and built up our reserves, Georgia will be able to address the current economic circumstances from a position of strength.
In addition to cutting spending, we have worked hard to make our state government run as efficiently and as effectively as possible. President Ronald Reagan once said, "The closest thing to eternal life that we will see on this earth is a government program." Reagan was right - government programs and bureaucracy never voluntarily become smaller.
To deliver on our promise to ensure that taxpayers' dollars are spent effectively within the budget, the state legislature instituted zero-based budgeting, which requires agencies to justify every government program and give a true assessment of their needs, mission and effectiveness. This has cut spending and streamlined state government.
Because of legislative oversight and hearings, agencies are now verifying eligibility for PeachCare and Medicaid benefits. This has allowed the state to cut out enormous amounts of fraud and waste. It is estimated that verifying eligibility for PeachCare and Medicaid alone has saved the state as much as $5.5 million.
These are small things that don't make for flashy headlines, but they are principled policies that are making our state strong, now and in the future. By approaching situations in a proactive manner, our state leaders have managed state funds in a responsible fashion so Georgia citizens will not suffer during this economic slowdown. There is much we can improve on and there are serious issues that demand attention, but all in all, there is much we can be proud of here in Georgia.
Williams is Senate majority leader and represents part of Liberty County.