Sunday, January 18, 2009

Governor says tough budget year ahead

Governor Sonny Perdue

Governor Sonny Perdue was welcomed by the full General Assembly to the State Capitol’s House chambers this morning. He delivered his annual State of the State address to outline where Georgia goes from here, in the face of a massive budget shortfall topping $2 billion.

Perdue said "we must not allow ourselves to be trapped in a short-term mindset where rash decisions result in dire long-term consequences."

Perdue in his 33-minute address told lawmakers some of the budget-pain could be relieved by tapping the state’s reserves for $50-million now, and another $408-million next fiscal year.

While light on specifics in certain areas, he gave particulars on some others, such as Georgia’s Medicaid funding gap. While some federal help could come in a stimulus package proposed by the incoming Obama-adminstration, Perdue said waiting is not an option:

"For those of you who would like to sit back and wait for Washington--we’ve waited before if you remember. And while I’m hopeful we’ll receive additional funds from the federal government, when I had the obligation of putting this budget together, I did not have the option to budget for money that may never materialize."

To that end, Perdue introduced legislation designed for Georgia’s healthcare system to share the burden in replenishing Medicaid:

"My budget will reflect in an accompanying bill that we will propose...a 1.6-percent fee on hospitals and health insurance providers to fill the hole in Medicaid and to do what the health care community has asked of us to do for so long."

Another centerpiece of Perdue’s budget proposal would fund critical new infrastructure and further support Work Ready programs in the state to spur 20,000 new jobs. The Governor says the $1.2 billion construction borrowing package would be backed by Georgia’s AAA bond rating:

"In the past, we’ve often funded the design-phase of a project one year and the construction at a later date. This year’s package will fast-track some of those. We'll feature many projects in which both design and construction are funded in the same year, ensuring a more timely completion.”

Other points of highlight and proposals from the Governor's address:

- Transportation: Perdue says he shares a vision with Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson to devise a plan to improve the state's needs. Perdue would back the right funding plan. He also is committed to reform of the Department of Transportation.

- Education: Legislation to ensure local school boards act properly. Perdue also wants lawmakers to pass legislation to reward principals of improving schools with bonuses, and award merit pay to top teachers.

- Trauma care: In conjunction with Medicaid fee proposal, the Super Speeder legislation would provide $60 million for the sustaining and enhancement of trauma care in Georgia.

- Perdue's budget proposal calls for no pay raises for state employees and teachers next year ; $428 million in property tax grants would be eliminated, possibly leading to property tax increases for Georgians.

-By Edgar Treiguts

Photo courtesy of Carl Zornes

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