ATLANTA -- House Speaker David Ralston said the state should evaluate whether it still makes sense to put illegal drug users in prison.
Meeting with reporters Thursday, the Blue Ridge Republican said coping with a whopping budget problem will lead the General Assembly to confront some fundamental questions. The legislature that convenes Monday is facing a projected $2 billion spending overage amounting to more than 10 percent of the state budget.
The House leader suggested one of those probing questions could involve a rethinking of the state's drug laws.
"We're going to have to start a discussion, I believe, about our policy in terms of how we incarcerate people in Georgia. I'm not sure where that discussion ultimately will lead to," said Ralston, a one-time candidate for attorney general.
"We're spending a huge amount of money locking people up that have drug problems," he continued. "At some point the people of Georgia have a right to ask if that's an appropriate way to spend their tax dollars."
"I'm just using drug problems as one example."
He acknowledged that budget cutting doesn't make any friends for lawmakers, but he said no part of government will escape scrutiny. The priorities in his mind are those services the state must provide such as public safety, Medicaid and education.
"I'm not sure that education is going to be immune from further cuts, but I think we've asked about as much as we can ask from education," he said.
Would the House raise taxes some way to lessen some budget cuts?
"When you've got unemployment right at 10 percent, I don't think that's a good time to tell Georgians we need more of their money," he said, adding that the November elections sent a message that voters agree.