Originally created 03/15/05

Senate's plan has bonds to aid MCG



ATLANTA - A state budget proposal - including $4 million in construction bonds for the Medical College of Georgia, $50,000 for the Augusta Mini Theatre and a 2 percent pay raise for all teachers and state employees - won easy approval Monday in the Senate.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, said the 2006 budget brought good news after two years of "painful cuts" caused by the economic downturn of 2001-03.

Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, said he was pleased the Senate agreed to support a $4 million bond proposal introduced by House lawmakers that would help upgrade MCG's energy distribution system.

"The stronger we can make the Medical College of Georgia, the more improved our opportunities will be to expand the economy of Augusta and Richmond County," Mr. Walker said.

Some Democrats complained that the Republican-led Legislature was relying too heavily on debt-financed bonds and should put more funds into the state's rainy-day reserves.

"What are we doing? Borrowing and spending with no regard for tomorrow," said Sen. Tim Golden, D-Valdosta.

The record $17.4 billion spending plan - passed in a 38-13 vote - is far from its final form.

The Senate draft removed various community-level projects that House budget writers added to their version earlier this month.

Opposing the House requests, the Senate called instead for a $3 million fund that the state Department of Community Affairs could use to dole out money for local projects.

House leaders have vowed to fight the fund, saying lawmakers shouldn't turn over their budgeting powers to unelected bureaucrats.

Now three members from each chamber will meet in a conference committee to hammer out a budget that can win support in both the House and the Senate.

Several Senate Democrats complained that Republican budget writers should have held back on pushing for new construction projects and used the money instead to restore the millions of dollars in cuts levied on state agencies in recent years.

Sen. Regina Thomas, D-Savannah, slammed the GOP's 2 percent pay raise proposal, arguing the increase would be eaten up by corresponding increases in employee health-care costs.

Among the 45 House projects slashed by the Senate budget were: $300,000 for technology improvements at the Columbia County Library; $140,000 for construction at the Columbia County Industrial Park; $138,000 for sewer repairs in Harlem; and $51,250 for new services at Lucy Laney High School.

Reach Brian Basinger at (404) 681-1701 or brian.basinger@morris.com.