Originally created 03/13/98

Georgia Senate set to OK budget



ATLANTA -- The Georgia Senate is set to approve its version of next year's $12.5 billion state budget, which adds dozens of local and social service projects and sides with the governor in his battle to use $76 million for a public-private children's health insurance program.

The measure also adds back part of the $14 million the House cut from Gov. Zell Miller's education spending proposal.

"The House made some severe cuts in education," said Senate Appropriations Chairman George Hooks, D-Americus. "We've made vast improvements in that area. Is it all we want to do? No, but we've got to balance the budget."

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the plan Thursday and the full Senate is expected to pass it today. The House approved its version last week. House and Senate negotiators will begin final work on the budget this weekend.

The legislative session is scheduled to end next week. The new budget is for fiscal 1999, which begins July 1.

The Senate plan restores University System of Georgia construction projects cut by the House, including $8.7 million for a Gainesville College science building that was lopped off because the lawmaker who represents the school has consistently voted against budgets written by the Democratic leadership.

The Senate deleted two college construction projects the House had added: $1.04 million in building-planning money for Columbus State University and the University of Georgia.

The Senate is siding with Mr. Miller, who wants to spend $76 million in state and federal money to provide health insurance to children through public and private programs. The House wants to use the money to put more children on Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor and disabled.

"That's going to be a big-ticket item in negotiations," Mr. Hooks said.

The Senate budget includes $278 million for a fourth consecutive six percent pay raise for teachers and $462 million in construction projects.

It allocates $6.25 billion to the state Department of Education and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, not including college construction projects and lottery-financed HOPE scholarship money.

The House cut about $14 million from the proposed budget for the state Department of Education. Most of the cuts were in increased grants planned for local school districts. The Senate restored about $3 million of the cuts in the funding formula for local schools.

However, it also cut $1.3 million designed to pay for summer driver's education programs.

The Senate plan would increase subsidies by $4.1 million to counties to pay for upkeep of county jail inmates. It reduces money for local boards of health by $5 million.

The plan adds $297,500 for family dental services for the Tri-County Primary Health Care Center in Warrenton. It cuts $581,000 from planned increases in support of graduate medical education at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.

The plan eliminates four positions added by the House for a pilot program in "Strengthening Georgia's Families and Communities" at the University of Georgia, previously budgeted for $250,000. It adds $30,000 for African-American economic summits at the University of Georgia.