Archive for February, 2010

Revised state budget before the House

The Georgia House is about to take up an amended budget that slashes spending for the current year by $1.15 billion.

The amended 2010 budget of $17.4 billion, which covers state spending through June 30,  calls for more unpaid furloughs for teachers and budget cuts of 6 percent to 8 percent for most state agencies.

At about 11 a.m. Thursday, House members were preparing for what could be a protracted discussion of the state’s funding priorities.

In the revised spending plan, House budget writers protected  Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposal to boost funding for mental health hospitals by $2.2 million, a system that is under federal scrutiny.

Also, no further cuts were made to basic school funding — beyond the $281 million Perdue already targeted for cuts. The House proposal puts $17 million back into a fund for low-wealth school districts, money Perdue had recommended cutting. The so-called equalization grants help certain districts make up for a lagging property tax base. …

Continue reading Revised state budget before the House »

Libertarians back voter choice bill

The Georgia Libertarian Party has endorsed a proposal in the Senate that would open the state’s ballots to any political party that receives the support of at least 1 percent of voters in a statewide race.

Current state law says for a political party to earn an automatic line on the state ballot, its candidate for governor or president must receive 20 percent of the vote in a statewide general election. A candidate whose party does not qualify must turn in petitions that include the signatures of at least 5 percent of the registered voters from the district he or she plans to run in. For statewide candidates, the petitions must include signatures of 1 percent of all registered Georgia voters.

SB 359 is sponsored by Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth).

“Reform to our state’s Draconian ballot-access law is long overdue.,” said Jason Pye, legislative director of the state Libertarian Party. “Libertarians believe very much in competition, whether it is in the marketplace or …

Continue reading Libertarians back voter choice bill »

Senate bill would make it easier for military vets to get enrolled in college

A new Senate bill introduced today would make it easier for guys like Josh Moore – a 26-year-old Army veteran, who fought in Afghanistan – go to college in Georgia. The bill, sponsored by Sen. J.B. Powell (D-Blythe) would allow veterans who have enrolled into a Georgia college to attend classes until their G.I. Bill arrives.

In the past, veterans have complained that they have been kicked out of school, dropped from classes, or assessed fines while waiting for their money to arrive.

“I felt like we ought to do something to help these people out who have done so much for us,” said Powell said. “This bill gives direction to the Board of Regents or to a university to give a grace period for tuition. This gives our soldiers a grace period and it shouldn’t impact the universities at all.”

Tom Daniel, vice chancellor of external affairs for the Board of Regents, said he hasn’t read the bill, but agrees on principle.

“Anything that we can do to help our veterans is …

Continue reading Senate bill would make it easier for military vets to get enrolled in college »

Lawmakers ask Georgia Lottery Corp. to rethink bonuses

Some top lawmakers want the Georgia Lottery Corp. to not hand out incentive pay – or bonuses – when teachers and state employees go without pay raises and face furloughs.

The legislators’ sentiment is contained in a pair of resolutions filed by House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin (R-Evans).

Many lawmakers have expressed anger at the Lottery for paying out bonuses to its employees at a time when the General Assembly is slashing spending and making teachers take days off without pay.

The Georgia Lottery handed out $2.7 million in bonuses to its staffers last year, up 8 percent from the previous year.

Lottery CEO Margaret DeFrancisco received a $204,034 bonus, up from $150,000 in 2008. That’s on top of a $286,000 salary, which was unchanged from 2008.

Lottery officials say the bonuses, which they call incentive payments, are commonly used in private industry to help retain top staffers. Georgia’s lottery, which is among the most successful in the nation, set another sales …

Continue reading Lawmakers ask Georgia Lottery Corp. to rethink bonuses »

Update: Lawmakers rip Handel for refusing furlough days

House budget writers this morning criticized former Secretary of State Karen Handel for refusing to take furlough days as mandated by lawmakers and the governor, a situation they plan to rectify now.

But Handel, who resigned in December to focus on her bid for the Republican nomination as governor, hit back, with her campaign accusing House leaders of seeking retribution.

While going over the proposed 2010 amended state budget, Appropriations Committee chairman Ben Harbin (R-Evans) said he has been working with current Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp has agreed to take the required six furlough days, Harbin said. But while most other state employees will have taken six unpaid days off from July 1 through June 30, employees in the secretary of state’s office will have to take six over the next few months, if this budget is approved.

Handel campaign spokesman Dan McLagan said lawmakers haven’t been paying attention. Handel has consistently said on the campaign stump that she …

Continue reading Update: Lawmakers rip Handel for refusing furlough days »

House goes against Perdue on HOPE shift and cuts public colleges

Gov. Sonny Perdue’s plan to use lottery money to pay for more state scholarships – a move some call unconstitutional – is about to get its first official failing grade.
The House Appropriations Committee will approve a spending plan Wednesday morning that goes against Perdue’s proposal to shift the $33 million in taxpayer-funded scholarships and grants to the lottery programs, which are already buckling under the weight of big increases in HOPE scholarships.
Among other changes, the committee’s budget plan will cut an extra $9.7 million from the University System’s budget and $1.5 million from technical colleges.
The move wasn’t a surprise, since House and Senate leaders have already asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker for an opinion on the legality of Perdue’s move.
Perdue wants to pay for about $33 million in taxpayer-funded scholarships and grants this year with lottery funds. That might not be a problem in some years, but the cost of HOPE scholarships and …

Continue reading House goes against Perdue on HOPE shift and cuts public colleges »

Bill would regulate communications companies

A House bill that promises to roll back old regulations put all communications companies on a level playing field, while adding no new taxes sailed through the Georgia Senate this morning. HB 168, a holdover from last session, passed 44-4.

“Twenty years ago, cable and telephone were different,” said Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth), chairman of the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. “Now, they have merged and there is no reason to regulate the industries differently.”

The bill includes a gradual phase out of “access charges” that companies charge each other for cross-state calls. It also calls for the immediate removal of Georgia Public Service Commission oversight over how the companies work with each other.

Don Thomas (R-Dalton), one of the four senators who opposed the bill, said he was concerned about possible costs.

“I am concerned about the possible raising of rates. In my area, there are a lot of independent phone companies who could be impacted by …

Continue reading Bill would regulate communications companies »

Mr. Davis goes to Atlanta

There was a new face in the Senate chamber this morning. Senators were introduced to the new gentleman from Augusta, Hardie Davis.

Davis was sworn in Monday and had his first day in the Senate on Tuesday.

One of his first chores? Praising his fellow Yellow Jackets from the speaker’s podium for Georgia Tech Day at the capitol.

“This is an exciting day,” Davis said later. “I like the pace over here.”

While new to the Senate, Davis isn’t exactly a new face in the Capitol.

Prior to running for Senate, the 41-year-old pastor of Abundant Life Worship Center represented Augusta in the Georgia House of Representatives.

“I knew Augusta needed strong and effective leadership in this seat,” Davis said. “I want to make sure Augusta gets its fair share.”

Davis said in the he is going to advocate for teachers, the Medical College of Georgia and work to create jobs.

“As far as legislation, I have some good ideas that I am very excited about,” Davis said.

Just last …

Continue reading Mr. Davis goes to Atlanta »

January brings no relief as state revenues fall again

The state of Georgia saw its revenues fall by another 8.7 percent in January, the 14th consecutive month of decline, another sickening sign that the state’s economy has yet to recover.

Overall, the fiscal year that begin July 1 has seen the state collect 12.9 percent less in taxes and other revenues than the comparable 7-month period a year ago, a difference of more than $1.28 billion.

The news comes the day before lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee are expected to adopt an amended 2010 budget that cuts $1.2 billion from the version approved by the Legislature last year. The amended budget was built around a revenue estimate from Gov. Sonny Perdue that is now obsolete, given the continued drop of tax collections in January.

The state did not build on December’s gains in individual income tax collections, which were up 6 percent over December 2008. In January, however, those collections were off 16 percent from January 2009. Sales tax collections fell 5.5 percent …

Continue reading January brings no relief as state revenues fall again »

House members propose long-term transportation funding

A bi-partisan group of House members on Tuesday proposed a bill that they said would complement transportation funding plans that are being worked up at the state Capitol. In contrast to other plans under discussion, it would increase the amount of money set aside for transportation statewide over the long term, and be permanent, assuming the economy continued to grow.

In contrast, a plan proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue would go up for region-by-region votes in 2012 and sunset after a few years.  Another proposed by House and Senate Democrats would also be regional rather than statewide, and probably sunset, though it would allow part of the gas tax that goes to general state expenses to be dedicated for transportation.

The plan proposed Tuesday by Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) and others would not raise the state’s tax rate.  But over time, as the economy recovered and state revenues grew, a certain amount of the increasing revenues from the state’s general sales tax would …

Continue reading House members propose long-term transportation funding »