Archive for May, 2009

Judges: More budget cuts will close courts

Georgia’s top judges warned Gov. Sonny Perdue this week that forcing the state court system to absorb additional cuts this fiscal year could force courtrooms to close. 

Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears and Judge Melvin K. Westmoreland, president of the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia, told Perdue in separate letters that the budget reductions announced Thursday will have dire consequences and are — in their opinion — unconstitutional. 

Perdue announced Thursday that state revenues had continued to decline and that every state agency would see a 25 percent cut in the state money they were to receive in June, the final month of the 2009 fiscal year. That amounts to about a 2 percent annual budget cut. A Perdue spokesman said Friday that the governor understands the judges’ frustrations, but that Perdue has the constitutional and statutory authority and responsibility to balance the state’s budget and that the cuts would continue as planned. 

In her …

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Breaking: State agencies face 25 percent budget cut in June

Gov. Sonny Perdue on Thursday said state revenues for the almost-ended fiscal year have continued to decline and that state agencies will lose a quarter of their June funding.

Perdue, in a letter to top state lawmakers, said he is being forced to lower the state revenue estimate by more than $274 million for the 2009 fiscal year that ends June 30. 

Education funding won’t be impacted by the cuts, Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said. Perdue plans to use federal stimulus money to replace cuts in state funding for K-12. 

This cut comes on top of more than $2 billion in spending reductions for fiscal 2009. Perdue needed to make the move to avoid having to further empty already depleted state reserves at the end of the fiscal year to pay bills.

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Unemployed could get stimulus-backed $$$

Gov. Sonny Perdue wants unemployed Georgians to be “work ready.” And he’s got more than $4 million in federal stimulus money to try and make it happen. 

Perdue this week unveiled the launch of Be Work Ready, a state program designed to help unemployed workers jump start job searches and develop confidence and competitive advantages in the job market. The new program is an offshoot of the existing Georgia Work Ready, which allows unemployed workers to earn a “Work Ready Certificate” by taking a job skills assessment. 

The key to the new program is a cash incentive. Job seekers who earn a “Work Ready Certificate” through the governor’s Office of Workforce Development can earn Visa gift cards worth up to $100.

Only those who currently have a certificate are eligible for the program.

The state has $4.2 million in federal stimulus money set aside for the gift cards, which are designed to be used to buy goods or services to help in the job hunt, said Debra Lyons, director of the …

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State parks to reduce access, services; eliminate more than 170 jobs

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, reeling from a 39 percent state budget cut, announced a series of “heart-wrenching” moves Wednesday designed to deal with the spending cuts and a 24 percent drop in revenue. 

Access and services at five state parks will be reduced, operational days will drop at 12 historic sites and fees for lodging, recreation and and parking will increase as well. 

“These decisions were heart-wrenching, but were made using a business-case analysis,” DNR commissioner Chris Clark said. “We are exploring every avenue to manage budget reductions and revenue shortfalls, to properly care for our state parks and historic sites and to minimize the impact on Georgia citizens and communities.”

Part of the reorganization will be finding ways for parks, historic sites, golf courses and other DNR properties to become more self-sustaining. Clark said the agency would also explore privatizing operations of lodges and golf courses. 

“Outsourcing agreements …

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Obama official won’t enter water war fray

By Kristi E. Swartz
kswartz@ajc.com

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said it’s up to the governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama to hash out the nearly 20-year long battle over who controls the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River.

“I do not see us as coming in and hammering heads and getting the deal done,” Salazar said at a news conference with Gov. Sonny Perdue on Wednesday after a helicopter tour of Lake Lanier.

Salazar is spending the day in Georgia to review the state’s water issues. Until recently, the state suffered from a record-setting three-year drought, which only heated up a 19-year water war between the three states.

That issue is now before the courts.

While Salazar said he considered water and the Southeast one of his “cardinal issues,” he was adamant about not stepping in and forcing a solution on how the three states should manage their water.

Perdue told reporters he thinks all three states would “be better served” with an allocation plan based on …

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Feisty Republicans ready to roll

Savannah — The 2009 Georgia Republican Convention is about to get under way — delegates are finding their counties in the Savannah Trade and Convention Center and the candidates’ hospitality suites are restocking  food and beverage. 

There’s an energy out in the concourse where T-shirted volunteers for the various campaigns are offering stickers, hand bills and posters and various vendors are hawking their wares. 

But, in a sign that all is not solidarity in Savannah, at least some feelings are still frayed over Gov. Sonny Perdue’s decision to veto House Bill 481, the bill from Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger) that would have given employers a tax credit for hiring unemployed workers. It also would have cut the state capital gains tax in half. 

Perdue vetoed it, saying its $1 billion price tag was too high in an era of diminished state revenue. 

But that argument isn’t sitting well with some. FreedomWorks, the Dick Armey-backed, tea-party people, are here passing out lapel …

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Perdue expends little ink in approving 2010 budget

Just three line items totaling less than $200,000 in the 2010 state budget met with Gov. Sonny Perdue’s displeasure. 

Perdue on Wednesday signed the $18.6 billion spending plan, but unlike in past years, he found little to quibble with in doing so. 

The budget that now becomes law for the year beginning July 1 is $2.5 billion less than the 2009 budget passed during the 2008 session of the General Assembly. 

“Cutting the budget has forced a number of difficult decisions, but we have managed the state in a thoughtful, conservative way to ensure Georgians are receiving value for their tax dollars,” Perdue said in a statement.

The budget includes $23 million for trauma funding and more than $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money to fill holes for Medicaid and other programs. It avoids new health insurance premium increases for 225,000 teachers and state employees 

Overall, the budget features more than $1 billion in year-to-year cuts as well as $1.2 billion in borrowing for …

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Barnes: No decision yet; party ‘can do better’ than other three

Former Gov. Roy Barnes said Tuesday that he has yet to decide whether to run again in 2010, but said he believes the Democratic field is lacking.

Speaking to reporters outside the state Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson fund raiser, Barnes said he’s still considering his options and looking for a vision. He said he hopes to announce “around” June 1.

“Do I have a pleasant life?” he said. “I do. I enjoy going home every night. At the same time, I love this state.”

Barnes, first elected in 1998 and defeated in 2002, said his wife, Marie, has given her support for another campaign, as has their three children.

As for the three announced Democratic candidates – House Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin), Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Adjutant Gen. David Poythress – Barnes was pleasant but biting.

“Any of the ones who are Democrats, and most of the ones who are Republicans, are honorable folks,” he said. “I have nothing but highest praise for folks who will put …

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Updated: Three — or is that four? — Democratic candidates for guv meet the press

Updated below

Coming to you live from the Georgia Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner at the Hyatt Regency downtown, where the announced candidates for the party’s nomination for governor are about to meet outside with reporters. 

It was the three announced candidates … and one other guy. 

House Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin), Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Adjutant Gen. David Poythress were all there as was former Gov. Roy Barnes. 

Barnes, of course, has been the subject of much is he or isn’t he speculation. Was his presence in that group, put together by the state party, an indication of his intentions? We’ll let you know once it’s over.

Update 6:58: Is Barnes running? 

“I don’t know yet,” he said. 

He said he’s continuing his informal “listening tour” of the state and remains displeased with what he sees as a lack of leadership in the Gold Dome and the tremendous influence of special interests. 

But Barnes remained noncommittal about his …

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Perdue follows through, signs transportation bill

Gov. Sonny Perdue said Monday he planned to sign Senate Bill 200, the transportation governance bill, into law and Tuesday he proved to be good to his word. 

S.B. 200 was among dozens of bills the governor signed into law today. 

As a refresher, S.B. 200 overhauls the state Department of Transportation and the way the state plans for and executes transportation projects. While leaving the DOT board in place, the bill takes away much of its authority and gives it to a new director of planning, who will be named by the governor with the approval of the House Transportation Committee. 

But the bill also gives the General Assembly power to decide how to spend a goodly portion of the state’s road-building money. 

While the bill is far different from the one that Perdue called for at a news conference earlier this year with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram), it was good enough  for the governor to sign.

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