2009 budget headed for House vote; Department of Corrections furloughs now certain

The state's 2009 amended budget passed committee this morning, setting up a full House of Representatives vote Thursday.

Cuts to the budget are much the same as when Gov. Sonny Perdue made his recommendations last month, though there have been some changes to account for ever-declining state revenues in the worsening economy.

In Macon, the Georgia sports and music halls of fame would still take cuts, though no more than the governor announced in January.

The state has had to cut more than $2 billion to balance the budget for the current fiscal year. The state has eliminated some jobs, but most of those were either vacant positions or computer jobs eliminated as the state privatized IT services across state departments. That move began before the economy faltered and drastically affected state revenues.

Most of the cuts have come from dipping into the state's health benefit plan reserves and other rainy day accounts, as well as from employee furloughs.

Most notably, the Georgia Department of Human Resources has furloughed employees, including caseworkers who work with children and the poor. The Department of Corrections is also furloughing all 13,500 of its employees in a plan that takes effect next month.

Correctional officers and other "mission critical" employees will take two furlough days stretched over the next four months, a department spokesman confirmed this morning. Other employees will take one day each month from March through June.

That plan was reported as in place but not final earlier this month. It is now a go, spokeswoman Kristen Stancil said this morning.

House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin said he doesn't expect any additional furloughs will be needed to carry the state through July 1, when a new fiscal year begins. After that, it depends on what the economy does.

"This is economy has changed so many times and so quickly, I really don't want to build any false hope," said Harbin, R-Evans.

With its work done on that budget, Harbin and other members of the House Appropriations Committee can now focus on the fiscal 2010 budget.