Originally created 02/26/03

Senate Republicans show what budget would look like without tax hike

ATLANTA -- Does Georgia really need the tobacco and liquor tax increases Gov. Sonny Perdue proposed?

Senate Republicans sought to answer that question Tuesday with a demonstration of how the state budget would look without new revenue.

A draft which they made public would slash spending throughout state government by as much as 7 percent, eliminate the $30 million greenspace program and take a bite out of the budget for higher education.

They described the draft document as an example of the possible impact if taxes aren't raised, but stressed it is not their final proposal.

"This is the cold hard look at the sober facts of a budget without a tax increase," said Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah.

"There are a lot of people in the public, and here in the General Assembly, that believe that a tax increase is not necessary; that we can cut instead of increasing taxes," he added. "This exposes what that looks like."

State department heads will have a couple of days to look over the proposal and can then testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday about the impact on their programs.

Tom Daniel, a senior vice chancellor of the university system, said the proposal could be devastating for the state's public colleges and universities.

"In the last 15 months, the university campuses have absorbed five reductions totaling $185 million," he said. "To be asked to handle an additional $15 million cut in the last three months of the fiscal year is going to have dramatic, painful and sad consequences."

Perdue, the first Republican governor of Georgia since 1872, proposed the tax increases shortly after taking office last month to help manage an expected $620 million shortfall in the current year's budget.

But many lawmakers weren't enthusiastic over the prospect of raising taxes, including members of his own party who signed pledges last year to vote against any tax hikes.

Johnson, leader of the new Republican majority in the Senate, refused to say Tuesday if he would prefer tax increases to the deeper spending cuts his budget writers proposed.

"I'd like to hear from the department heads who have not had a chance to respond to this about what this means to the human needs of Georgia," he said.

Rep. Tom Buck, D-Columbus, chairman of the House budget committee, called the Senate exercise a waste of time. The House version of the midyear budget dips into surplus for the additional money needed to finance Perdue's spending plan. Senators should do the same, he said.

Senators said that money could be needed later.

The greenspace program would be eliminated from the current budget. It is designed to help communities buy land for passive recreation. Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, the Senate budget chairman, said the program could be funded at a reduced rate in next year's budget.

Senate budget writers abandoned an earlier proposal to increase health insurance costs for poor families who participate in the PeachCare health program for children under 18.


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