There’s the government you need, and the government you’re willing to pay for

The sober language of reality is slowly spreading through the state Capitol.

The Legislature is in the midst of a two-week hiatus, while knots of lawmakers pore through the innards of an $18 billion state budget.

They’re looking for $1.2 billion or more that can be sliced away, or paid for with new funds — be they called tax hikes, fee increases, revenue enhancements or tuition maximizations.

We are used to Republican rhetoric from Washington, where a congressman can rail against out-of-control federal spending from dawn to dusk — and in the evening still take credit for the money that Democrats send the way of his voters.

But in the state Capitol, where the GOP is actually in charge of the machinery, Republicans have gone quiet as they grope for the line that divides sloganeering from real life — the balance between what you and I need from government, and what we’re willing to pay.

The important parties are giving themselves plenty of room to maneuver.

House Speaker David Ralston has expressed his discomfort with a hospital bed tax proposed by Perdue to help fill the gap, and a cigarette tax hike pushed as an alternative. But this week he acknowledged to a reporter that both measures remain on the table.

Over the weekend, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle distributed to the 34 Republicans in his Senate a 19-page, full-color collection of talking points about the state’s budget crisis. The volume emphasized “aggressive” hacking already performed by the Legislature.

“These are unprecedented times. We’ve gone from a $21 billion budget to what is virtually a $15 billion budget,” Cagle said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m very committed to producing a budget that is fiscally responsible and does not increase the tax burden on the citizens of this state.”

Does that include revenue enhancements by any other name? Cagle wouldn’t go there.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has been the most forthright about unpleasant solutions.

On Monday morning, his spokesman, Bert Brantley, e-mailed reporters and asked them to take note of a chart in the Wall Street Journal that ranked state governments by the amount spent per individual.

In 2008, Georgia came in 48th, behind only Florida and Texas, at $3,729.

“The governor’s not running again. This budget was not based on the politics of having to go back to the ballot box,” Brantley told a reporter. “Others do have to worry about that. And that’s fine.”

Whether the solution is a hospital bed tax or a cigarette tax, the governor is not particular. “We are very open to other alternatives and other ideas and just looking to get the problem fixed,” Brantley said. “They don’t need to run that by us or anything like that. We’re not involved in this to try and be a check.”

Other possibilities, mentioned elsewhere, include a hefty buyout program for state employees nearing retirement, and outright layoff for a certain number of the 90,000 people who hold state jobs.

There are tipping points in the argument between more budget cuts and the need to preserve what we have.

One may be the 180-day school year. So far, teacher furloughs have been drawn from training days. A school official told lawmakers this week that further cuts may have to cut into classroom time.

Not a good thing for a state pitching itself as a haven for business, one that wants to recover quickly after the Great Recession passes.

On the other hand, many Republican lawmakers — all of whom serve part-time, without much staff — are still of the opinion that, even after seven years of GOP control, they don’t have a firm grasp on state spending.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers waved copies of the Red and Black, the University of Georgia campus newspaper, pointing to an article that detailed raises to top-salaried university employees.

“I believe the bureaucrats that run the agencies can do a little more in finding savings,” said House Rules Chairman Bill Hembree (R-Winston). “I want us, as a legislative body, to push that to the limit. They’ll come and tell us how difficult times have been, but I don’t think they’ve made the difficult decisions.”

Hembree says he considers himself a member of the tea party movement, and acknowledges worries among some members about July primary opposition.

This is not an unforeseen conflict. Last May, in his final appearance as governor before the state GOP, Perdue warned of the dangers of government by slogan.

“We cannot allow our party to lose out because we were mortally wounded by friendly fire. We cannot sacrifice good, conservative government and effective leadership to mantras and attack ads from our own,” he said.

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33 comments Add your comment

Used to be Disgusted

February 24th, 2010
6:59 pm

Purdue: the dumbest of the dumb. Republicans are useless pieces of crap.

Simple

February 24th, 2010
7:24 pm

Allow anyone who self-identifies as being a member of the tea party to opt out of paying taxes for life. Then revoke a taxpayer-provided benefits to the same people. No fire, police, farm subsidies, roads, driver’s licenses, national defense, etc. They give nothing and get nothing. Budget problems solved and now the homeless will have someone to look down upon.

Bitter EX democrackkk

February 24th, 2010
7:39 pm

OUTLAW democrackkks AND republicannots and require all candidates be UNaffiliated!

ACC 12 Booster

February 24th, 2010
7:59 pm

Don’t care much for tax increases except when very necessary. I say scrap the hospital tax and go with increased sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. Also, the legislature should be willing to approve the sales of alcohol and liquor on Sundays and in return for legalizing those sales should levy increased taxes across the board on all sales of alcoholic beverages on all days of the week, but should levy even higher taxes for all alcoholic sales on Sunday to help the state get through this severe economic and financial slump. Increased taxes on sex products and services (nude dancing, sex toys and movies) and taxing the legalization of gambling would also help increase slumping revenues and enhance revenues once the economy starts to recover (whatever year that maybe), but definitely start with cigarettes and alcohol. Let sin taxes and by extension, SINNERS (in religious right-speak) be the ones who pay to help get the state through a very rough spot.

OnceUponATime

February 24th, 2010
8:11 pm

1) Cut pay and benefits for the General Assembly.
2) Find creative ways of generating state revenue. A hotel tax would be better than a hospital tax. Don’t mind “sin taxes” or Sunday sales of alcohol either.
3) Only fund what is in the state Constitution.

OnceUponATime

February 24th, 2010
8:12 pm

4) Stop paying fixed per diem amounts to General Assembly members.

Road Scholar

February 24th, 2010
8:19 pm

OUAT: Remove their health insurance and retirement

Flint River Rat

February 24th, 2010
9:16 pm

Road Scholar you won’t solve the budget issues by removing retirement and health insurance benefits from the budget. Georgia has grown tremendously in population and as the statistics point out we are one of the lowest per capita funded state governments in the nation. Pork spending has caused some of our pain……..museums, horse parks, taj mahal buildings on college campuses.

bart

February 24th, 2010
10:12 pm

I LOVE “Simple’s” solution to the budget problem. The Tea Party idiots do not seem to realize that government does indeed provide services most of us do not want to do without.

Friedman

February 24th, 2010
10:15 pm

The GA ranking on state spending is misleading b/c GA is less centralized than most states. Combined state/local spending in GA is around the middle of the pack when measureed (properly) as a pct of income rather than per capita.

OnceUponATime

February 24th, 2010
10:19 pm

@Road Scholar, good idea!

@Flint River Rat, that’s partially because the state keeps shoving expenses onto the counties.

WAW

February 24th, 2010
10:55 pm

Put all agencies, schools and public employees on a 4 day workweek.

There «

February 24th, 2010
11:03 pm

[...] There There’s the government you need, and the government you’re willing to pay for [...]

Bird

February 24th, 2010
11:56 pm

Lots of good ideas here, let me add another.
Sales Tax on all items containing sugar. The sin of obesity can take that one on.

The Obvious

February 25th, 2010
12:05 am

Make GAMBLING legal! Turn Underground into a FULL CASINO. People want this – I want this! Stop the budget shortfalls – help Georgia’s economy. Gambling is not bad, drinking is much worse and that is legal. Here I’ll make you a bet: you allow gambling for 1 year and once you have a taste of the money brought in I’ll bet $100 it will be here for good.

Michael

February 25th, 2010
12:07 am

If you want to raise revenue then just sell booze 24/7 and triple the DUI fines. It is an election year so at least you know some demagogue will go after criminals.

Common Sense

February 25th, 2010
1:34 am

At some point all “Sin Tax Products” are going to have to be raised. Alcohol, Tobacco, etc.
The Corportate Income Taxes will need to be lowered so businesses are more attracted to the state of Georgia. The 180 school year is going to have to be cut to 170.
The number of employees in each agency excluding Education(teachers only), public safety, prisons and child services will need to be cut by 15 to 20 percent. Less work is being done with smaller budgets and the direct effect is to cut personnel which will make each agency more accountable while reducing the single largest expenditure by state government( salaries and benefits of state employees). No one wants to see anyone lose their job, however time has arrived where hiring freezes, layoffs and early retirements should be at front and center of every discussion. Some people can blame The legislature, governor,or just about anyone with a title..and wanting those person to take pay cuts, lose benefits and do without food or and be taken out back and caned. Well that might help some hurt feelings however the facts are that cutting 6 billion dollars from a budget already smalller than it was in 2005 will require about 15000 employees on the state coffers to either retire, be layoffed or quit..those are the real facts and the private sector has already gone through the hurt of massive layoffs…..

TnGelding

February 25th, 2010
2:36 am

Common Sense

February 25th, 2010
1:34 am

Why not eliminate all 180 days? Give the students a computer at the end of the year and tell them not to come back. Or let them buy bus tickets like we did in Oak Ridge in the ’50s. What about a 10-20% surtax on all traffic fines? 100% if needed. Also, what about ending the sweetheart deal we retirees (actually, you don’t even have to be retired) get on unearned income?

Chris

February 25th, 2010
6:32 am

The author is right, we get what we’re willing to pay for. Georgia is a relatively low tax state, so there’s room to raise taxes without driving out businesses. And there’s plenty of low hanging fruit, before resorting to drastic measures like cutting police or fire fighters.

How about getting rid of the idiotic sales tax holidays, for starters?
They serve no purpose except to make it look like politicians are doing something. I haven’t heard a single Republocrat or Demican bring this common sense proposal.

Karl Marx

February 25th, 2010
6:53 am

How about just “No New TAXES. They already get enough so let them reallocate if they need to it for something else and if they are going to add a sin tax cut some other tax an equal amount. They don’t need any MORE money.

Halo

February 25th, 2010
7:17 am

Let the church start paying taxes. An Altar Tax.

Sinners are not the only people that should be responsible for bridging the gap in the budget!

tc

February 25th, 2010
7:20 am

require an iq test for members of general assembly and voters

tc

February 25th, 2010
7:31 am

pan for gold in dahlonega, get the chinese interested in go fishing bait & tackle shops, no med school at uga, do cost benefit on all corporate tax breaks and then rescind those not beneficial with the goal of reducing the general corporate tax break, buy american, require major university athletic programs to pay dividend to state treasury, etc.

Just a taxpayer

February 25th, 2010
7:48 am

Common Sense is something you don’t have much. If Georgia continues to erode the infrastructure of our education and service system, businesses won’t want to be in Georgia. The quality and intellect of employees, the state support for family members with disabilities or other issues, the correction system, the amount of crime; all of these impact the decision for businesses to locate in an area. Tax breaks don’t usually result in business and job growth, but rather increased profits – and whose to say that these profits remain in Georgia.

Georgia’s corporate taxes have been reduced by tax breaks year after year. Both parties did it so there is enough blame to go around. But Austin Scott has his name on a bill this year to eliminate Georgia income tax on corporations.

We, as citizens of Georgia, get what we pay for. If we want roads, quality education, low crime, etc., we must pay for it.

potstirrer

February 25th, 2010
8:42 am

ACC12booster is right on. Up the sin taxes for a LIMITED time. Restructure the corporate taxes to make GA the state to relocate from the heavy UNION yankee states. Does Sonny have line item veto?? USE IT if he does. Start charging for “FREE” services at county health departments. Allow services for US citizens, reduce benefits for illegal immigrants NOW!! They don’t pay payroll taxes why should they gain benefits??? Do it now!!

[...] column, posted here, is about the search by state lawmakers for that budgetary sweet spot – the balance between the [...]

deegee

February 25th, 2010
9:33 am

potstirrer, illegal immigrants don’t get benefits from the state or the federal government. Children born of them in the US are eligible for some benefits but illegal immigrants are not eligible. BTW, Chip Rogers claimed that his illegal immigrant busting legislation would save Georgia $1 billion a year. I think he made a big political splash but not much of a financial splash.

retired early

February 25th, 2010
10:48 am

You need a billon $$, just eliminate the sales tax and property tax exemptions to all those special interest groups. Why is no one talking about that real doable budget saver.?

NG

February 25th, 2010
10:54 am

Illegal immigrants don’t get benefits? What do you call free education and health care? Eliminate those benefits and we can find a lot of money in the budget.

We need to stop funding things like the arts and public television. As nice as those things are, they are not functions of the government. If they are worthy, let them find more private donations or other ways to find the needed revenue to exist outside of taxpayer dollars.

Common Sense

February 25th, 2010
10:59 am

just a taxpayer..I can get nasty back at you but I willl rise above it…

The School year is figment of imagination created years ago and that magic number of 180 is no longer realistic…..How many field days, field trips, pep rallies, guest speaker interest groups, assemblies are held in a school year..none of those are REQUIRED….wasted days pile up..

The real answer would be to initiate a STATE RETAIL SALES TAX that eliminates state income tax and would capture the entire state including illegals and visitors to the state.

Slash the state jobs programs (which many of the 90000 jobs really are) and make the state a lean mean accountable machine…

Hazel

February 25th, 2010
1:29 pm

Re School Year: American students get less schooling than much of the rest of the world. Georgia kids do not fare well now in national rankings. Corporations won’t come if they don’t think their kids will get an education.

How about removing ALL tax loopholes? Seniors and churches should pay the same as everyone else.

ITK

February 25th, 2010
3:53 pm

If you have 2 illegal parents and 4 legal children in a household, the 4 children can receive $600 to $700 per month in Food Stamps and also Medicaid. You think those illegal adults are not benefiting? Or, if you are an illegal pregnant woman, all you have to do is wait until you are in labor and go to the hospital. Then you are approved for Emergency Medicaid which pays all your hospital bills. ( By the way, U.S. citizens are not eligible for Emergency Medicaid.) This is government I wish I was not paying for!

lvg

March 3rd, 2010
8:53 pm

This is what you get for having an incompetent boob for governor for the last eight years. And as to the legislature maybe instead of making unlimited gun use a top priority they should put a tax on gun sales and pewrmits to ease the deficit.