Originally created 03/09/99

Lawmakers approve budget



ATLANTA -- The House voted down a proposal that could have tripled Gov. Roy Barnes' proposed $83 million property tax cut Monday before approving a fiscal 2000 budget stuffed with enough pet local projects to give most lawmakers something to brag about at home this summer.

The House backed the $13.3 billion budget by a 159-19 vote, sending it to the Senate, where dozens of additional local projects almost certainly will be tacked on to a spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.

"The senators are probably going to add $5 million to $8 million," predicted House Majority Leader Larry Walker, D-Perry, who presented the budget to the House.

Mr. Walker defended the House's nearly 500 local grants -- worth about $9.6 million -- saying the band uniforms and theater-operating expenses the funding covers are a good use of state taxpayers' money.

However, House Minority Leader Bob Irvin, R-Atlanta, argued that the way the state allocates money for local grants is seriously flawed.

"There is so much wrong with it, it's hard to know where to focus," Mr. Irvin said.

Mr. Irvin wanted the House to approve a $250 million tax cut, rather than the $83 million property homestead exemption measure Mr. Barnes is pushing through the General Assembly.

"Let's give taxpayers a raise, along with the Legislature and everybody else," said Mr. Irvin, referring to the proposed 43 percent pay increase the House is considering for lawmakers.

Mr. Irvin's amendment failed 47-129.

The spending plan includes 4 percent pay raises for teachers and university staffers and 3 percent for other employees, at a cost of $252 million.

Teachers have received 6 percent raises the past four years, but Mr. Barnes thinks the 4 percent in fiscal 2000 will allow Georgia to keep pace with other states.

The House budget follows Mr. Barnes' proposal to spend millions on the Yamacraw Mission, designed to attract microchip design experts and businesses to Georgia.

The House plan also supports Mr. Barnes' call for spending $33 million in lottery revenues to let schools buy technology equipment, such as computers, and provide training.

However, it cuts $2 million of the money Mr. Barnes requested for after-school reading programs and $1.5 million for additional teacher merit pay programs.

The House also slashed $4 million in funding Mr. Barnes requested for a University System of Georgia project to improve teacher training.

James Salzer is based in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.



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