Ga. budget crunch will prompt fundamental questions, lawmaker warns

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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.

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Southern Sailor
Southern Sailor 01/06/11 - 08:00 pm
Don't know what I think about

Don't know what I think about putting drug users back on the street to steal from us to pay for their habits

Ushouldnthave 01/06/11 - 08:37 pm
The drug court approach used

The drug court approach used in places like North Georgia is a great success. Instead of incarceration it is a system of treatment, random drug testing, and random home searches. It has saved millions in prison costs, saved many previously wasted lives, and returned those who successfully complete the program into society with no criminal history. It's a common sense program that could work for the entire state.

Riverman1 01/06/11 - 08:42 pm
Ah, the state goes to the

Ah, the state goes to the backdoor approach to decriminalize drugs. Richmond County led the way. If you want to save BILLIONS and actually decrease drug use and the crime that goes with it, treat and educate, don't incarcerate.

dougk 01/06/11 - 09:44 pm
Now, all of a sudden when

Now, all of a sudden when there's budget crisis, our leaders are asking if it "makes sense." It NEVER made sense, but when the politicians had more money to throw away, it made total sense to them because it got them elected by exploiting the fear of their constituents.

recoveringaddict 01/06/11 - 10:20 pm
I say it's about time they

I say it's about time they stop and take a look at this. We are spending all of this money to house drug addicts in jails and prisons where they are receiving no help at all for their disease. When we lock up drug addicts in prison and don't offer any help, it doesn't matter how long they are in there, possibly years, the minute they are released they will use drugs. The disease of addiction is progressive and without any help it cannot be arrested. I believe we should put these drug addicts into residential longterm treatment programs and teach them about their disease and give them the skills to become functioning members of society. It would save a tremendous amount of money in the long run. I have been clean for three and a half years now, which means I haven't used drugs in three and a half years; I haven't shoplifted in three and a half years; I haven't had to ask for government assistance since I've been clean. I am a responsible, functioning member of society and of my family. I have a fulltime job and I pass on the priceless help that has been given to me. I am very happy to hear Mr. Ralston suggest that we take a look at this issue.

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