ATLANTA -- Gov. Sonny Perdue announced a bailout Thursday for the financially strapped PeachCare for Kids program, saying he will use money previously earmarked for the DamilerChrysler plant in Pooler that now has been indefinitely postponed.
"I'm here to tell you today that we're going to turn that bad news into good news for our kids in Georgia," he told reporters, saying part of the $49 million the state planned to spend for work at the sprawling coastal site will be used, instead, to underwrite the health program.
The state's health program for children of the working poor, now providing services for 190,000 kids, was underfunded by $18 million in the current budget, and legislative Democrats warned that thousands could lose or be denied coverage as a result.
The funding battle between Democratic legislators and the new Republican administration has been underway since last winter, when Perdue proposed a policy which would have closed the rolls to new enrollment any time that became necessary to keep within the budget.
Legislative budget writers refused to endorse that policy, but also did not include enough money in the budget for a program that has been adding thousands of new enrollees every month.
The state had hoped to gain thousands of new jobs and an economic jolt from the DamilerChrysler plant at Pooler, west of Savannah, but that fell through this week when the German automaker announced it was indefinitely postponing its plans.
Georgia already had spent $60 million to buy and prepare the site, and had planned to spend $49 million more this year for activities related to the plant.
Perdue said he'll shift $18 million of that money to PeachCare and keep the rest in reserve to soften cuts elsewhere that otherwise would have been necessary next year. He did not detail any further plans for the balance.
Rep. Mickey Channell, D-Greensboro, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he was "delighted. I think the governor made an excellent decision and I applaud him for making that decision."
He added, "I'm sorry we lost the Chrysler plant but, in terms of usage of the money, I personally can't think of a higher priority than insuring the children of working families."
Perdue left immediately for a flight to Savannah where he planned to announce the action again in a region immediately affected by the plant's loss, and to participate in a $1,000-per-person fund-raiser for his campaign.