Politics & Government

Georgia lawmakers reach deal on budget as 2009 session ends

ATLANTA — Georgia House and Senate leaders reached a deal on the state’s fiscal 2010 budget Friday evening, avoiding a late-night impasse as the 2009 session of the Georgia General Assembly wound down.

The budget passed the Senate, its final hurdle, at about 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Teacher furloughs, once seen as a potential way to balance the budget, have been avoided for now. State employees won’t pay more for their health insurance under this budget, though Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill said Gov. Sonny Perdue still could change that.

State leaders found a way to fully fund Medicaid and still avoid slicing payments to hospitals and doctors that are part of the state-funded and federally funded health-care program.

But they did that by cutting other state departments and by counting on even more federal stimulus money than before. The fiscal 2010 budget totals nearly $18.6 billion and depends on $1.4 billion in federal stimulus funding. That includes an extra $90 million from stimulus dollars that had initially been socked away for the fiscal 2011 budget year.

That, along with Republican-backed tax cuts destined to take other bites out of state revenues in the future, gave some state leaders pause Friday.

Even before those cuts, Perdue’s budget projections predicted large deficits in coming years, and the state’s reserves have been nearly depleted to keep the budget floating during the economic downturn.

“We’ve got to have the economy start to pick up or, the year after next, it’s going to be a pretty severe picture,” said House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin. Porter is one of a few state legislators to vote against the 2010 budget.

Most Middle Georgia projects appear to have survived the budgeting process. That includes:

Said Hill, who was part of the team that negotiated the budget: “I don’t know any Middle Georgia projects that might have slipped out.”

Whether state employees will continue to take furlough days once this new budget takes effect July 1 remains to be seen. Perdue and the Legislature have been cutting total department budgets but generally allowing department heads to decide how to implement those cuts.

However, Hill said departments were encouraged during this last round of budget talks to raise various fees charged to the public.

Porter said the 2010 budget “amounts to one of the largest property tax increases in history” because it doesn’t include funding for the homeowner’s tax relief grant. That’s a program, until it was changed this year, that sunk more than $400 million into local government budgets so they could give homeowners a tax break.

Now that the state can’t afford the program, Republican leaders said local governments will have to cut their own budgets to avoid raising taxes.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.

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