ATLANTA --- Georgia money managers reported plummeting tax collections and lawmakers tapped the brakes on the legislative session Friday amid worries that the state's mounting fiscal woes could force even deeper cuts to the state budget.
In their January report, state tax officials said revenues plunged 14.3 percent -- or $262 million -- from the same month the year before. For the fiscal year, tax collections are off 4.8 percent, or $499 million.
"We are in uncharted waters economically," House Majority Leader Jerry Keen said.
At the state Capitol, all eyes turned to Washington where Congress was debating a massive stimulus package that could funnel billions of dollars to Georgia. Although state officials say they aren't counting on the federal cash to bail them out, they're also working on two versions of the state budget: one with the federal cash and one without.
And Georgia lawmakers voted Friday to slow the session to three days a week, instead of five, to give Congress time to act.
Still, some leaders cautioned the federal money, if it comes, is not a cure all for the state's budget problems.
"The reality is the stimulus plan that's coming from Washington is not going to give us an enormous amount of budgetary relief," Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said Friday.
Some of the money would flow to road projects and school districts, for instance, and could not be used to put furloughed state employees back to work. It also would not pay for the $428 million in homeowner tax relief grants state legislative leaders have pledged to fund.
Georgia legislators plan to adjourn in late March with the option of returning in June, handing them some flexibility in dealing with a federal stimulus package in addition to any continued state economic slump.
Already, the state was looking to slash about $2.2 billion in state spending. Friday's dismal economic news means those cuts could slice even deeper if Gov. Sonny Perdue lowers the revenue estimate.
There was no comment from Mr. Perdue's office on the new figures Friday.
The numbers reported in January cover the month of December and show that spending in Georgia over the holiday season was dismal. Sales tax revenues were off 17 percent from the same month last year.
And that wasn't the only category to see a slide.
Individual income taxes dropped by 13.3 percent and corporate income taxes took a 117 percent nosedive.
"There are really no bright spots in there," state fiscal economist Kenneth Heaghney said. "It's uniformly negative."
SESSION TO END EARLY
ATLANTA --- House and Senate leaders have struck a deal to aim to adjourn the Legislature with five days to go, saving those days for the last week of the fiscal year in June in case a federal stimulus package passes or tax collections dip even lower.
Lawmakers could meet in June to add the federal money or cut spending further without the need for a special session. If they don't meet again in June, the five days trimmed from the session would save $45,000 to $70,000 in daily legislative operations costs.
-- Source Morris News Service