Originally created 02/15/02

House approves midyear budget



ATLANTA - The Georgia House adopted a midyear budget proposal Thursday that relies heavily on an infusion of borrowing to rally a state economy that has been hit with massive job losses.

The spending plan, approved 129-42, now goes to the Senate.

Gov. Roy Barnes wants to borrow $1.3 billion through the sale of bonds to speed up construction of highways and public buildings, particularly schools. The accelerated schedule would create an estimated 12,000 jobs directly and another 13,000 indirectly.

As is customarily the case, House Democratic leaders made few changes in the midyear spending adjustments the governor recommended last month.

However, they did add about $21 million to his proposed bond package for a variety of primarily education-related projects, from $60,000 for pre-design work at the Effingham County campus of Savannah Technical College to $5 million for an addition at Macon State College's Warner Robins Center.

Lawmakers also ratified the vast majority of across-the-board spending cuts Mr. Barnes ordered late last year in response to declining state tax revenues.

The governor instructed state agencies to cut 2.5 percent from their budgets this year and look for ways to reduce spending another 5 percent in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

"A lot of people are not going to be happy with this budget," said House Majority Leader Larry Walker, D-Perry. "We've done the best we could, but there are lots of cuts in here, more than I've ever seen."

But Democratic leaders found ways to fund some projects that weren't included in Mr. Barnes' recommendations, including $250,000 for boat ramps in St. Marys and $50,000 in state funding for the trauma helicopter that operates out of Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah. The helicopter money had been in the original 2002 budget but was cut by the governor.

"It's not just a Savannah helicopter," said Rep. Anne Mueller, R-Savannah. "It's the only one in south Georgia."

The House version of the midyear budget contains fewer than the usual number of new "pork-barrel" projects inserted on behalf of influential legislators.

But Republicans took aim at the Democrats for allowing any in such a tight budget year.

Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, tried to amend the budget to remove the boat ramps.

"Revenues are down," he said. "Common sense dictates that new spending for special projects shouldn't be included in this budget."

But Rep. Charlie Smith, D-St. Marys, said city officials spent about $200,000 two years ago to buy the waterfront site for the boat ramps after being assured that the state funding would be forthcoming. Instead, the project didn't make it into either last year's budget or the 2002 spending plan, he said.

Majority Democrats also defeated three other amendments, among them a proposal by Rep. Bob Smith, R-Watkinsville, to delete additional money requested by the rapidly growing Office of Child Advocate. He argued that the agency hasn't demonstrated that it's a more effective way of protecting children than if the state were to spend the same amount of money to hire more child-protection caseworkers.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.