Georgia education escapes with 5.7% budget cut

Despite a glimmer of hope in March, state revenues have been in a tailspin the past two years, and that has required significant budget cuts from the General Assembly.

Last week the House of Representatives passed a budget that’s 27 percent less than the original budget adopted for 2009, according to Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City. That translates to $4 billion less over a timeframe of two years.

This year’s proposed budget includes more than $100 million in program cuts and service contract eliminations, Ramsey said.

Most state agencies have had to enact further spending cuts to the tune of about 12 percent, Ramsey said. Education, which makes up the lion’s share of the state budget, took a 5.7 percent cut, Ramsey said.

State leaders are trying to reduce the cuts on education and public safety, in particular the Department of Corrections which runs the state’s prison system, Ramsey said.

Departments taking significant hits include the Department of Economic Development, the Secretary of State and also the Health and Human Services Department, Ramsey said.

The legislature is also taking heat for completely eliminating a statewide arts program. Other programs eliminated from the budget include the Council on Humanities and the three halls of fame for music, golf and sports. A proposed equestrian facility to be located in Middle Georgia was also axed from the House version of the budget, Ramsey said.

“I think this budget will get us through fiscal year 2011 and we’ll be back next year dealing with it again,” Ramsey said.

Another issue on the bubble as the legislature wraps up in coming weeks is that of Ramsey’s bill that would make it illegal for drivers under the age of 18 to use a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle.

The bill passed unanimously through the Senate’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday morning and will be forwarded to the Senate’s Rules Committee, which will control whether or not it is placed on the calendar for a vote before the session ends.

The legislature this week is also expected to vote on an ethics reform bill to address “abuse of power” issues that recently came to light involving members of the General Assembly, Ramsey said.

Former House Speaker Glenn Richardson resigned earlier this year after it was reported that he previously had a relationship with a female lobbyist who had pending legislation before the House.

The new ethics rules will improve citizen access to campaign funding disclosures that are already available online, Ramsey said.

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey said a non-partisan organization has rated Georgia’s existing ethics laws the sixth-best in the country for transparency and accountability.

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