Legislative Week 9: It’s all about the budget

With Crossover Day behind us, the end of a challenging 2009 regular session draws near. The House and Senate have six legislative days remaining before we adjourn on Friday, April 3.

As I have stated over and over again, this session continues to be dominated by budget discussions brought on by the historic economic downturn our state is currently facing.

The shortfall in revenues will result in the largest reduction in the size of state government over a two-year period in the history of the state.

Last week, the House passed its version of the 2010 budget. The measure has now been sent to the Senate, where the Senate will surely adopt a differing version, which will result in a conference committee meeting to iron out differences before the end of the session.

As the 2010 budget was far and away the most significant legislation adopted by the House last week, I have listed some information below about areas of the budget in which I have received the most inquiries from constituents.

Healthcare — The budget passed by the House restores a proposed reduction of $434 million in reimbursement to hospitals and healthcare providers.

The governor continues to express concern about the ability of the state to fund expected growth in Medicaid, which will certainly come as our unemployment rate continues to rise. This will certainly be a key point of negotiation in the remaining days of the session.

One issue I have heard a great deal about is the proposed elimination of the state’s supplement for school nurses and its potential impact on student health.

The version passed by the House fully funds the school nurse program. The House version of the budget also maintains the current state-to-employee state health benefit plan contribution ratio for current and retired employees. However, that figure may be adjusted in the Senate.

Education — The House budget includes full funding of the state salary supplement for national board certified teachers, which was initially slated for elimination in the governor’s budget recommendation.

In addition, the House budget provides that Quality Basic Education enrollment growth projections for K-12 grade and the university system will receive full funding. Education makes up roughly 60 percent over our state’s budget.

Virtually every agency of state government went through spending reductions of 10 percent or greater. The House’s 2009 and 2010 budget both have reductions of approximately 3 percent in the area of K-12 education, far and away the least impacted area of the state budget in terms of percentage reductions.

While the economic downturn has necessitated cuts (the only other alternative is tax increases, which would be a terrible idea in this economy), I believe you will continue to see the House and Senate work to the greatest extent possible to ensure that the economy does not impact our children’s education. I pledge to represent that view throughout the remaining days of the session.

Public Safety — The safety and security of the Georgia’s citizens is one of the primary responsibilities of state government. It is vital that we not allow the economic downturn to jeopardize the safety of our citizens.

While economic necessity has forced some cuts in public safety, the House version of the budget funds GBI crime labs throughout the state and 23 new State Patrol cars to help keep our roads safe.

These difficult economic times certainly impacts us all in one way or another. Some important services were reduced in the FY 2009 supplemental budget and in the House’s version of the 2010 budget, and if revenues continue to diminish, further cuts may be necessary.

However, both budget documents represent a concerted, diligent effort to cut wasteful spending and prioritize the needs of Georgians in the face of a marked and continuing economic downturn.

We are constitutionally obligated to live within our means in Georgia and balance the budget, which ensures our children are not burdened by additional state-incurred debt, as our federal government is fond of doing.

If there is one good thing to come from these hard times, it will be a renewed appreciation for the proper limits of government and fiscal responsibility.

Serving as your representative is an honor, and I take this responsibility seriously. As the session progresses, I will continue to update you on legislation and events important to the state and our district. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your thoughts and comments by calling my office at 404-651-7737.

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

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