Week 5 legislative update: House to tackle budget hearings

Matt Ramsey's picture

Last week the General Assembly convened for legislative days 18-20 of the 2010 session of the Georgia legislature. We have officially reached the half-way point of the 40-day session and there is still much work to be done.

Last week the Senate adopted the FY 2010 mid-year budget adjustment that was passed by the House the previous week. As I previously reported, the measure included in excess of $1 billion in additional spending cuts. These reductions were necessary to balance the budget due to much lower than expected state revenues brought on by the still struggling economy.

Perhaps the most significant news last week was the announcement that the House and Senate would be going into recess for the next two weeks to allow for joint appropriations hearings on the FY 2011 budget.

This is an unprecedented step and one that is necessary as the Appropriations Committee begins putting together a balanced budget that will require an estimated additional $1.1 billion in reductions beyond what was in the recently adopted FY 2010 budget.

I continue to believe that spending reductions are the most responsible way to balance the budget, and we must continue to resist efforts to implement broad-based tax increases as many other states have done and some legislators in Georgia are suggesting.

On Thursday of last week the House passed a measure addressing irresponsible budget decisions that have been made by some school systems around the state. Over the past two years almost all state employees have been called on to take furlough days as revenues have continued to decline.

In fact, many state employees are being required to take a minimum of one furlough day per month this fiscal year. School employees such as teachers, para-professionals, bus drivers, and other non-administrative school workers have not been immune from furlough days.

While most state and local employees I have spoken to understand the difficult budget climate we are in, many have expressed concern about the budget decision-makers not applying the same fiscal discipline to themselves as they are to their employees.

Specifically, I have been amazed to hear stories that a number of school boards around the state have made the decision to increase the salaries of their superintendents and central office administrative staff while requiring other school employees to take salary reductions through furlough days.

That is inexcusable, in my opinion. In that regard, I cosponsored H.B. 907, which is a measure that would prohibit the use of state funds to provide a salary increase for a local school superintendent or other administrator in the same fiscal year that any teachers or other school employees are furloughed.

I am pleased to report that the measure passed the House on Thursday and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

In recent years the Georgia legislature has implemented a number of measures aimed at making state spending more transparent and accessible to taxpayers. Most notably, the General Assembly passed a bill two years ago requiring the state budget to be placed on a searchable, publicly available website so citizens have access to information on every penny spent by their state government.

Last week the House passed a measure to begin providing for some of that same transparency on the local level. H.B. 122 will require local government entities with annual budgets exceeding $1 million to transmit their budgets to a publicly available, searchable website maintained by the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia.

I voted yes on this bill and look forward to the Senate adopting this measure. The bill will enhance the transparency of government actions by helping the public better understand local government budgeting practices and more effectively hold elected officials accountable.

I continue to hope these columns are helpful in keeping community members updated on actions of Georgia’s legislature.

As I earlier reported, the House and Senate will be in recess for budget hearings over the next two weeks. I will resume writing legislative update columns the week of March 8 when the legislature reconvenes. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from members of this community with any questions or concerns.

[Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) was first elected to the District 72 post in December 2007. He is a law partner with Warner, Hooper, and Ramsey, P.C., in Peachtree City. His email is matt.ramsey@house.ga.gov.]