Tough choices loom for Ga. legislators

ATLANTA - Georgia's politicians will soon face tough choices over whether to call a special legislative session or broker an agreement on how to slash funds if state tax revenues continue to plummet amid the troubled economy.


Leading lawmakers are set to meet with Gov. Sonny Perdue after the figures are released to try to reach a united front on how to deal with the cuts. And budget officials say they'll work to avoid a return to the Capitol if they can.

"In my mind, there's more negatives than positives - unless we can't avoid it," said state Sen. Jack Hill, who chairs the budget-writing Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has so far managed the revenue downturn using executive orders for across-the-board cuts. He ordered many state agencies to slash 25 percent of their budgets in June and called for three percent cuts for July amid dimming revenue prospects.

The latest tax collection figures, which will likely be released this week, will be watched closely by budget analysts and lawmakers for a signal of any upturn. If the downward trend continues, though, lawmakers say they will huddle with Perdue to determine a course.

"Maybe a wise direction would be to all agree on what cuts to take, what path we should take, and give our public agreement to our governor's plan, and announce that's the way it will be handled," said Hill.

Hill said he and other Republican leaders will try to avoid a special session, which are often tricky - and costly - maneuvers. Each day of a special session could cost $45,000, and they often last about a week.

And, as Hill points out, often the special session debate is a mere formality as the decisions are hammered out before the 180 House lawmakers and 56 state senators return to Atlanta.

"You may think you get more input if there's a special session, but usually those things are settled before it starts," said Hill, a Reidsville Republican.

An increasingly tight budget could force their hand, though. A return to the Capitol would be unavoidable if the governor and lawmakers agree that new legislation is needed to dig the state out of a deepening deficit.

Perdue said last week that he would consider calling legislators back to Atlanta if there was a "consensus" that new laws to ax more funding was needed. His spokesman Bert Brantley said the governor has been meeting regularly with lawmakers about the funding cuts.

"If there's consensus and they want to come in, he's glad to have that conversation," said Brantley. "We can have a very robust discussion about it."

House Speaker Glenn Richardson's office said the speaker is working with Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to monitor the revenue figures "before making a decision regarding the need for a special session."

Hill, for his part, is hoping the figures detailing June's tax collections will provide lawmakers with more guidance on their next step - and a glimmer of good news. He figures revenues may continue their descent, but hopes they are not as steep as previous months.

If so, he said, "we might have the beginnings of a U-turn."