ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal stressed Tuesday that he is recommending a tiny increase in state spending next year even though the economic outlook is improving.
“The indicators are that we are seeing the economy stabilize,” he told a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriations committees.
His comments kicked off the committees’ three days of hearings on his budget recommendations.
He cautioned them not to envision large spending increases, noting that his budget proposal would raise spending just 0.28 percent above last year other than money required to cover health inflation and the enrollment growth in schools and colleges.
When accounting for changes in purchasing power, Deal’s total budget amounts to a 20 percent decrease in spending per Georgia resident compared with 2002, the last year with a Democratic governor in office.
“We are continuing to maintain the conservative approach in budgeting that we did last year,” he said, noting there was no tax increase last year nor one proposed for this year.
After his 10-minute presentation, he told reporters he hopes the lawmakers heed his warning and don’t use the improved tax collections to add pork-barrel projects.
“I think the General Assembly has demonstrated from last year’s budget experience that they’re willing to be conservative, and I expect them to continue that habit this year,” he said.
An hour later, Senate Democrats attacked the budgeting approach of Deal and other Republicans. The minority senators rolled out their legislative agenda that includes budgeting reforms, such as preventing cuts to the ethics commission like happened last year and an evaluation of existing business tax breaks.
Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, will introduce a bill next week that will prevent tapping environmental and judicial funds for general government expenditures. Republicans used millions of dollars from fees collected for environmental clean up and court fees as a way to avoid raising taxes or deeper budget cuts.
“It’s a slight of hand, a shell game, that we’re telling voters,” said Sen. Doug Stoner, the chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “And we wonder why they have distrust in government in this country.”