ATLANTA - House budget writers have rejected Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposal to take money from the state lottery reserves to pay for scholarships and grants typically funded with taxpayer dollars.
The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a $17.4 billion midyear spending plan by a 53-5 vote. Several Democrats voted against the spending plan, contending it doesn't adequately fund education.
Legislators trimmed spending in various state agencies to avoid using about $33 million in lottery funds for the scholarships, as Perdue had proposed. Georgia colleges appeared to take the hardest hit. The House budget plan slashed another $10 million from the state's university system.
"There are difficult choices here, and you will see that," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ben Harbin said as he presented the spending plan.
Georgia is grappling with a $1.2 billion budget hole for the fiscal year that ends June 30. On Tuesday, state money managers reported that revenues were down in January, the 14th straight month that tax collections in the state have declined.
The state constitution mandates that lottery money be used for a select group of things, including the HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs. Legislative leaders have asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker for a legal opinion on whether the funds shift Perdue had proposed was constitutional.
The House also scraped together $17 million to funnel into state equalization grants, which help school districts with poor tax bases keep pace with their wealthier counterparts.
The House budget also restored $300,000 for tourism programs. They are also adding cash for six special investigative agents in the state Department of Revenue to boost tax collections.
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter said he voted against the budget because it continues to underfund education. Perdue's office has disputed that saying school funding has risen under his watch.
The budget plan is scheduled to face a vote in the full House today. It will then move to the state Senate.
At the end of Wednesday's hearing, Harbin took the unusual step of chastising lawmakers who had skipped budget subcommittee hearings this week. In some instances, he said panels lacked a quorum to vote and he had to attend meetings.
"We have a tough, tough road in front of us," he said, urging legislators to make the meetings where difficult spending decisions are being made.