ATLANTA - Citing worries over the economy, Gov. Roy Barnes has imposed a partial hiring freeze on state government, the first since the mid-1990s.
"While Georgia's revenues have remained strong, indications are that Georgia is facing an economic slowdown," the governor wrote in a statement issued late Thursday.
Until further notice, the freeze will prohibit state agencies from filling current and future job vacancies, except for classroom teachers and some law-enforcement personnel.
The freeze probably won't apply to on-the-road officers with the State Patrol and Georgia Bureau of Investigation, but could be used to reduce by attrition those agencies' administrative ranks, said Bill Tomlinson, the governor's budget director.
Mr. Tomlinson said the state's economic forecasters still believe Georgia will meet the revenue projections contained in the 2002 state budget adopted by the General Assembly last month and even generate a surplus.
Tax collections for the first nine months of the fiscal year that began July 1 are up 6.9 percent over the same period last year, according to the Department of Revenue.
But Mr. Tomlinson said Mr. Barnes' financial adviser at the Office of Planning and Budget, Hank Thomassen, is concerned by the alarming number of budget shortfalls that are occurring in other states.
"We're not an island in the stream," Mr. Tomlinson said. "Whatever affects the rest of the nation is going to affect us."
Some Republican lawmakers expressed similar concerns during the weeks of debate leading up to passage of the spending plan. But Democratic leaders countered that Mr. Barnes' budget policies, including conservative revenue projections, would act as a hedge against an economic downturn.
On Thursday, Joselyn Butler, Mr. Barnes' spokeswoman, said the partial hiring freeze is another example of that philosophy.
"The governor has had a conservative eye to budgeting all along," she said.
Mr. Barnes certainly isn't looking through rose-colored glasses. The state's leading economic indicators are pointing up, according to the Georgia Department of Labor which reported a 2.5 percent gain in the measure in January over the same month in 2000.
And the unemployment rate was 3.4 percent in February, an improvement over last February's 3.8 percent.
While the manufacturing sector is reporting declining work weeks, earnings and payrolls, Georgia purchasing managers remain more optimistic than their colleagues in other states, according to figures compiled this month by Kennesaw State University.
Mr. Tomlinson characterized Thursday's action more as a preventive measure than a reaction to existing conditions.
"We're getting this in place so that, if we want to slow spending at some point, we have the mechanisms to do it," he said.
Mr. Tomlinson said then-Gov. Zell Miller imposed a hiring freeze in response to the recession of the early 1990s. Those controls remained in effect until the middle part of the decade, he said.
Mr. Barnes' order also keeps in place the state's moratorium on motor-vehicle purchases, which has been in effect for several years.
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.
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