The Senate Appropriations Committee passed an $18.6 billion budget plan for the upcoming year that includes new spending cuts and increases the cost of some health insurance plans for state employees.
However, senators say it fills a $140 million-$150 million potential hole they say the House left in the Medicaid health care program for the poor.
After the budget for fiscal 2010, which starts July 1, passes the full Senate Wednesday, senators will begin negotiating with the House. The House approved a fiscal 2010 budget less than two weeks ago. Negotiators will be racing against the clock because the 2009 session is scheduled to end Friday.
“We don’t have time to posture,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville).
Some of the big spending items expected to trip up the chambers appear to be on the verge of being solved. For instance, both chambers kept money in the budget for school nurses, which Gov. Sonny Perdue had proposed to eliminate.
Another program Perdue recommended eliminating, a 10 percent bonus for teachers who win national board certification, was funded by the House. The Senate partially funded it.
To help fund the health care system, the state will increase state employee health care costs for certain insurance plans.
The budget plan includes a $1.2 billion bond package. Senators squeezed more money out of the bond package by projecting lower interest rates. Rates for borrowing have been dropping.
They also made several changes to the governor’s and House’s bond package. They eliminated money Perdue and the House had put in the budget to improve the commuter bus system in Atlanta. But they added $4.2 million to rehabilitate and expand rural railroad lines. They cut out two projects at Georgia State University that the House had put in, including one to create an outdoor recreation facility downtown. But they left in money to keep open money-losing state park golf courses in rural Georgia.
Hill said the senate budget makes further cuts to the Department of Natural Resources and the agency may decide to close or privatize the golf courses on its own.
The Senate plan includes money for construction and improvements at several libraries in districts represented by the minority Democratic Party. That includes $2 million for the DeKalb County central library and $2 million for a branch library in Forest Park.
The House had removed funding for those libraries, even though they were high on the state library system’s priority list.