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Notes From the Senate
Friday, 15 April 2011

SENATE AND HOUSE PASS BUDGET AS LEGISLATURE ADJOURNS

 

April 15--  Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville provides an overview of the just-ended session of the Georgia legislature.

 

"The 2011 General Assembly finished in typically frenetic style on April 14 at about twenty minutes before midnight. Over the next few weeks, the column will review legislation that passed this session. This week's column will look at the $18.2 billion state budget that was adopted to run the state for the next 12 months starting in July.

 

The FY 2012 General Budget, at $18.2 billion, totals $2.8 billion less than the FY 2009 budget as proposed 3 years ago. Because of the removal of federal stimulus funds from the FY 2011 budget, the '012 budget is only  about $230 million more than the Amended 2011 budget.

 

During conference, the Governor raised the FY012 revenue estimate by some $47 million to reflect the budgeting of new revenue compliance agents, which totaled $12.9 million for the Revenue Dept.  These agents will increase collections through fraud detection, out of state auditing, additional revenue enforcement and alcohol and tobacco enforcement. It is estimated that these new agents will produce over almost $100 million dollars in uncollected taxes due the state in FY013 as well.

 

There were two big issues that the House and the Senate had to deal with that came up after the Governor presented his budget request. The first was the interest due on the funds the state has borrowed from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund. The Legislature put $18 million into the Governor's Emergency Fund to partially pay the interest payment, which may run as high as $24 million.

 

The other challenge was a $270 million shortfall in the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP).  It's a little complicated, but one issue was the discounted amount local systems are paying for coverage for non-certified school employees- less than one third of the amount for other employees. The other big issue is the growing cost of retirees' healthcare, where 75% of the cost is borne by the state. A combination of increased employer funding, increased member premiums and cash only partially filled the hole. Temporarily, the Medicaid Trust Fund provided the difference.

 

The Special Reapportionment Session will cost a projected $3.9 million and has been set for Aug. 15. As an efficiency move, the legislature is moving departments to combine backroom services like payroll.

 

Funds were included in this budget for 10 additional "Accountability Courts," normally drug or mental health courts. These post sentencing alternatives have produced excellent results where they have been tried.

 

In Behavioral Health, some $59.3 million in new funds are included to meet the state's agreement with the U.S. Dept of Justice. Most of these funds go to community services.

 

To promote job growth, $5 million was added to the state's fund to help close projects bringing new jobs to the state.

 

Funding was provided to continue the Galileo library program to Georgia K-12 schools and part of the cut to school nurses was restored.

 

The Forestry Department will get funds for seasonal firefighters. South Georgia has experienced several huge forest fires this year.

 

The Family Connections program will stay as a local collaborative and will not come under the Governor's Office of Children and Families.

 

In Human Services, the Legislature restored cuts to Alzheimer's Respite Services both in Medicaid and in non-Medicaid services. Sexual Assault Services received $655,000 in state funding, satisfying concerns about utilizing TANF funds. Family Violence Centers will stay where they are and $1 million in funds were added as well. Some $1 million was restored to replace federal stimulus funds for Meals on Wheels.

 

In DNR, $345,944 was added to fund the cleanup of the top 28 assessed scrap tire projects under the Solid Waste Trust Fund.

 

The budget now reflects the passage of legislation making Public Health a separate department. Also the Legislature restored the $2.4 million for the local county grant-in-aid.

 

In the Department of Revenue, included in the new funding was $1.2 to enhance customer service and $2.35 million to aid revenue processing to avoid delays.

 

In technical colleges, $4.5 million was added in conference to assist with the commercial truck driving program.

 

Next week will feature the $675 million bond package and a review of legislation passed."

 

If you would like additional information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly website at http://www.legis.ga.gov/
 
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