Originally created 04/10/03

Senate panel passes cuts for museum



ATLANTA - Fort Discovery's budget next year could be leaner if the state Senate succeeds in trimming 10 percent from what Georgia taxpayers contribute to the children's science museum in Augusta.

On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1. Republicans controlling the Senate reduced spending in many areas in an attempt to balance the budget without a tax increase.

One area was a $296,000 reduction for contracts with the National Science Center, which operates Fort Discovery. Also cut by 10 percent were the Fernbank and SciTrek museums in Atlanta, the Georgia Youth Science & Technology Centers, and a computer program that teaches algebra sold by the National Science Center Foundation, which is also in Augusta but is independent of the museum.

"That money is very important," said Barry Wood, the business-affairs director for the foundation. "(Losing) it will not enhance our ability to provide help to schools."

Sen. Don Cheeks, R-Augusta, sits on the Appropriations Committee and is one of three Senate negotiators on the final budget. He said the cuts could have been deeper.

"The best we could do is give them 90 percent of what they got last year," he said. "It will not improve unless you get a tax increase."

In recent years, Fort Discovery has received $1.5 million to cover admission costs for school groups, and the foundation received $350,000 plus a $15 fee for each of the 4,000 pupils in 31 schools who use the algebra program.

Both saw their budgets cut 5 percent in the current fiscal year and will experience 10 percent cuts from the reduced amounts next year if the full Senate and the House agree to the committee's plan.

Gov. Sonny Perdue must agree to the plan, because he has line-item veto power over the state budget.

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424 or wjones@morris.com.