Legislative Week 3: State revenue collections keep declining

This past week was the third full week the General Assembly was in session, and Friday marked the 15th legislative day out of a Constitutional maximum of 40.

The big news of the week was the announcement at the end of the week of the official state revenue numbers for the month of January.

Governor Perdue announced that the revenues in January 2009 were close to 15 percent (over $250 million) less than the revenues in January 2008.

This was one of the largest year-over-year monthly decreases in our state’s history and significantly less than the revenue estimate for the month.

What this means, in real dollar terms, is that the General Assembly will likely need to cut as much as $3 billion, rather than the previously estimated $2 billion in reductions, to balance the budget.

Because of the rapid deterioration in revenues, a resolution was adopted on Friday setting our schedule for the rest of the session.

The House and Senate leadership determined that it was prudent to set a schedule which reserves five legislative days in the event that revenues continue to drop precipitously between now and the end of the fiscal year in June.

This will allow the General Assembly to come back into session and make any necessary budget adjustments in the months to come.

In order to save these days, it will require the legislature to finish our business by the 35th day of the legislative session.

Given the revenue difficulties brought on by the economy, it is important that all levels of government use their discretion to allocate dollars to critical needs.

Recognizing this fact, Gov. Perdue is working to provide relief from expenditure controls to give maximum flexibility to school systems in their effort to ensure classroom instruction is not diminished during this difficult time.

In that regard, I have introduced legislation on behalf of Gov. Perdue that will provide relief from several state budgetary restrictions for this school year and next school year. It should be heard by the Education Committee in the coming week.

It is absolutely critical that we work to ensure that our children’s education is not impacted by the current budgetary limitations. I strongly believe that is the sentiment of the governor and my colleagues in the General Assembly.

On Friday of last week, I presented my “cell phone bill” before a subcommittee of the Motor Vehicles Committee. This bill, if adopted, will prohibit cell phone use by 16- and 17-year-old drivers.

The hearing went well, with the Medical Association of Georgia, AAA, and other groups testifying in favor of my legislation.

I am hopeful a vote will occur in another committee meeting in the days ahead.

Also, my legislation to strengthen the child molestation statute will be heard in subcommittee this upcoming week. I will provide updates on both pieces of legislation in the weeks ahead.

While the budget news is not good, I believe a good and important discussion is being brought on by the economic difficulties.

Because revenues are significantly diminished, all levels of government are being forced to truly assess and evaluate the necessity of all programs and services.

On the state level, budget cuts are necessary; however, when the economy improves, Georgia’s government will be more lean and efficient because of this experience, which is the silver lining to the economic black cloud hanging over us.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. I look forward to interacting with the members of this great community.

[Matt Ramsey, an attorney in Peachtree City, represents District 72 in the Georgia House of Representatives.]

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