Budget topping Assembly’s duties

Published 2:40 pm Friday, February 11, 2011

We are now a quarter of the way through the annual 40-day legislative session.

While most days have been filled with constitutionally required technical procedures, they have also provided necessary time for the workings of the committee process. This was especially clear this week, as House committees considered numerous bills and the House Appropriations subcommittees delved further into the state budgets. These meetings have begun to show that zero-based budgeting and the HOPE program will receive a lot of attention throughout the remainder of this session. With that in mind, I would like to take a moment to let you know a little about both of these issues.

Over the last 10 years, our state population grew by 18.3 percent, but in just the past two fiscal years we have been forced to cut our state budget by nearly $4 billion.

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Necessitated by the economic recession, these cuts were targeted in a way that balanced the state budget while protecting core services. Now our budget requires further cuts to fill a $1 billion hole caused by expiring federal stimulus funds. These latest cuts will require the General Assembly to utilize enhanced methods of examining state budgets, identifying inefficiencies and eliminating potential waste. Zero-based budgeting is one of those methods.

Georgia currently uses a continuation budgeting method, which requires state agencies to specifically detail new spending only. Zero-based budgeting would change this process by requiring one-quarter of state agencies to itemize their entire budget on a four-year rotation. As a result, the entire state budget would be analyzed every four years, allowing state legislators to scrutinize every dollar of taxpayer money and ensure its proper and efficient use.

You may be heard that the Senate recently voted to override former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s veto of Senate Bill 1, a zero-based budget bill from the 2010 legislative session. The House and Senate passed the bill last year, but Gov. Perdue was not in favor of the bill so he vetoed it.

Then, this year, the Senate chose to override that veto. If the House were to join the Senate and support this veto override and allow 2010’s SB 1 to become law, it is the House’s position that our new governor would be in immediate violation of that law. This is because SB 1 applies to the budgets that Gov. Nathan Deal submitted to the House just a few weeks ago.

Rather than fighting yesterday’s battles with the former governor, we should work on today’s solutions in cooperation with the new governor, who supports the principles of zero-based budget bill that Speaker David Ralston assigned to the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee. I think it is important that we give this new bill an opportunity to work through the legislative process.

Another challenge we face this session is finding a way to sustain the lottery funded pre-K and HOPE programs. The overwhelming success of these programs makes this problem particularly troubling.

For example, since its creation in 1993, the HOPE Scholarship has helped send 1.4 million Georgia high school students to college.

Clearly the continuation of these lottery funded programs is vital of the future prosperity of this state. However, lottery proceeds have reached a plateau, while the demand for these programs continues to rise.

As a result, over the past several years Georgia’s pre-K and HOPE programs have paid out more than the lottery has brought in. If this continues, all reserve funds for these programs will be depleted by fiscal year 2013.

To ensure this does not happen, reforms to these programs are carefully being considered during the current legislative session. Please rest assured that I am keeping a close eye on this issue and will work to maintain the continued success of our pre-K and HOPE programs. As I continue to represent our community, I would like to hear any questions or concerns you may have about issues affecting our local area as well as our state as a whole. You can reach me at my capitol office at (404) 656-0152. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

Rep. Gene Maddox