Last week the House convened for legislative days 34-36. With only four days left in the legislative session the pace of bills on the floor has picked up tremendously. The time remaining where a bill can come out of committee and still be considered by the full House is almost at an end, so a tremendous amount of activity has occurred in recent days by members and committees alike attempting to move important legislation out of committee and on to the floor of the House.
The most important and noteworthy legislation considered by the House last week was the FY 2011 budget. I have written much about the budget this year and this measure is the culmination of weeks of effort by the House Appropriations Committee to pass a balanced budget that meets the basic needs of the state.
Over the past two sessions of the General Assembly (a period of about 15 months) the state’s fiscal situation has taken a historic and unprecedented downturn.
When this session ends and the final budgets for FY 2010 amended and FY 2011 are passed and in effect, the state budget will be almost $4 billion (27 percent) less than the original budget passed for FY 2009.
For those of us that support streamlining and reducing the size of government, this has been the largest two-year decrease in the size of our state’s government in history, both in real dollars and percentage terms.
To put our revenue decline in perspective, until March, the state had had year-over-year revenue decline for 22 out of the previous 24 months.
The decisions we have had to make have been difficult and in many instances I wish better options existed; however, it is critical that we remain fiscally conservative through responsibly balanced budgeting so that we can maintain our AAA bond rating (we are one of only seven states with such a rating) and not heap additional economic burden on current and future generations of Georgians.
It is with this economic backdrop that the House Appropriations Committee worked to put together the FY 2011 budget.
The Fiscal Year 2011 budget that passed the House last week with a strong bipartisan vote included a total of $15.3 billion in state funds, which approximates 2005 budget levels.
To put that in perspective, if the FY 2011 budget is adjusted for both population and inflation, the budget is near mid-1990s levels.
Since Georgia, when compared to other states, is already at or near the lowest in terms of spending per capita, the budget process was particularly difficult this year with many agency program eliminations, consolidations and significant reductions.
Over the last two budget cycles the state has eliminated 7,000 positions from our state’s payroll. The FY 2011 budget includes over $100 million in program eliminations and service contract eliminations. This is on top of the major cuts and reductions that have already occurred over the last two years.
I provide this context because I think it is important for Georgia’s citizens to understand that their state is being run like a business, as it should be. As revenues have declined, the amount of money we have appropriated has declined as well.
It is critical we continue to make these tough choices to ensure the state and our families and small businesses are in the best position possible to recover economically and get Georgia’s 700,000-plus unemployed back to work again.
In this budget, the legislature continued to place a premium on holding core services as harmless as possible while focusing the larger reductions and eliminations on less critical areas of the budget.
In that regard, K-12 education, higher education, mandated Medicaid payments, and the Department of Corrections (i.e., our state prisons) combined comprise almost 80 percent of our budget.
Over the past three years the percentage of our budget spent on K-12 education has increased from 43 percent to nearly 47 percent of the overall budget.
Education continues to be our state’s top priority, and this budget is no different with K-12 and higher education receiving a much lower percentage reduction than other less critical areas of the budget.
The House budget now moves to the Senate where the Senate Appropriations Committee and full Senate will consider the measure and make any changes it deems appropriate. Then it will then be sent back to the House to be finalized over the last two weeks of the legislative session.
I continue to appreciate input from constituents on their priorities and feedback related to matters pending before the General Assembly. I continue to hope to hear from members of the community in the waning days of the session.
[Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) was first elected to the District 72 post in December 2007. He is a law partner with Warner, Hooper, and Ramsey, P.C., in Peachtree City. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]