The Georgia General Assembly recessed this past week in order to allow the Senate and House Appropriations committees to review their current and anticipated expenses in an effort to be, as Senator Bill Heath (R-31) stated this past Friday, "good stewards of Georgia’s taxpayer dollars".
State Senator Bill Heath (R-31) spoke of the reasoning behind the recess, this past Friday through local media channels:
“A few weeks ago, I mentioned in my column that this is a complicated process because we have to make sure all necessary state operations are properly funded without overspending. In addition to setting the framework for the FY 2014 budget, the FY 2013 amended budget must be revised to account for unexpected expenses and changes in anticipated revenue.
At the start of each year, Governor Deal offers his budget recommendations during his “State of the State” address. These recommendations serve as a guide for legislators during the appropriations process. While most of the recommendations are solid, it is important that we also hear from the state agencies that are dependent on these funds for basic operations. The Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Georgia Ports Authority and the Department of Economic Development are just a few of the agencies that presented their expenditure plans this past week,” said Heath.
“While the Governor’s proposed amended budget for FY13 is similar in total size to the General Budget passed last year, he did recommend lowering the revenue estimate by approximately $152 million. This reduction changes the proposed growth over the FY12 budget from 5 percent to 4 percent. To soften the effects of the reduction, the Governor recommended utilizing $172 million from the Revenue Shortfall Reserve, otherwise known as the “rainy day” fund.”
For FY2014, the Governor is setting the revenue estimate at $19.8 billion, which represents a 2.6 percent increase from FY2013. To break it down, the state needs approximately 5 percent tax revenue growth in order to meet the budget from the previous year and cover growth in health care, education and contractual obligations such as employee health benefits, pension plans and bond payments.
Heath said that even though revenues are up, they still have to balance the state’s checkbook and account for the recent population growth. He said long gone are the days where Georgia’s revenue shortfall reserve could easily sustain government operations for nearly a month at a time. The challenge the legislature now faces is providing funding for essential services while maintaining a balanced budget.
“Currently, our Revenue Shortfall Reserve stands at $378 million not counting the amount that will cover K-12 enrollment growth in FY13. This represents approximately seven days of operations for our state. Although Georgia’s economy is finally seeing some growth and declining unemployment, we are still navigating our way out of a national recession,” said Heath.
“Historically, Georgia’s budget estimate has always been conservative, but during these challenging economic times, all we can afford to cover is mandatory services such as population growth and our bonded indebtedness. Since the Governor’s revenue estimate is only 2.6 percent over the prior year, we will have to make cuts to existing programs that we have control over in order to meet the growth in expenses that we cannot control.”
Heath went on to say, “Over the past several years, the Georgia General Assembly has led a coordinated statewide effort to advance pro-business tax policies that promote investment in our state. The state’s efforts to keep inflation low and reduce government spending have certainly paid off. We have maintained our triple-A bond rating and are currently outperforming the U.S. in employment growth. This bond rating provides an additional incentive for businesses to relocate to Georgia keeps interest rates low and shows our citizens that we are spending their money wisely relative to other governing bodies. It is also a positive indicator of the state’s considerable progress toward stabilizing our economy and implementing responsible fiscal policies.”
“The next step for both the FY 13 amended budget and the FY 14 general budget is to go through the legislative process. Like all other fiscal bills, the proposed budgets will be introduced in the House and must be passed by the House before traveling to the Senate. Any significant changes in the bill between the House and Senate will require an appointed conference committee made up of members of both chambers to agree on a compromised version of the budget before it can be signed by the Governor.”