Originally created 03/09/06

Budget helps those in need



ATLANTA - Life sciences efforts in Augusta would get a boost under a budget approved by the House on Wednesday.

The spending plan also raises pay for thousands of law enforcement employees, opens up state services for hundreds of residents currently on waiting lists and sprinkles millions of dollars on local projects across the state.

The nearly $18.7 billion budget, which covers the spending year that begins July 1, sailed through on a 164-3 vote and now goes to the Senate, where it will likely be significantly revised.

Majority Republicans said the spending plan took care of state priorities while being a conservative blueprint that the state would be able to meet.

"This budget takes care of those people who are in need," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Evans. "This budget takes care of those people who work for us."

Under the plan, state employees would see raises ranging from 2 percent to 7 percent. All state employees would get at least a 2 percent raise; teachers and law enforcement officers could get a 7 percent increase.

The proposal also opens up hundreds of slots for state residents waiting to get home health care. It creates 1,500 new places in the state's mental retardation and development disabilities program, up from the 750 proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue; about 1,000 slots for at-home services for the state's elderly, doubling Mr. Perdue's recommendation; and 152 new spaces for the independent-care waiver program for those with disabilities and traumatic brain injuries.

Some of the most significant spending for the Augusta area, Mr. Harbin said, came in efforts by the Medical College of Georgia to help encourage homegrown life science companies while recruiting others from outside the state.

The Georgia Medical Center Authority would get $155,000 for an assistant director and expanded infrastructure, and a bio-business incubator at MCG would receive $500,000.

Other spending includes $135,000 for preparation work on land at Augusta Technical College's satellite campus in Columbia County and $2.8 million for Augusta State University to expand its central energy plant. Lawmakers scuttled an effort by Mr. Perdue to kill the nurse anesthetist program at MCG.

Local health-care facilities could also benefit, with East Central Regional Hospital getting more than $4 million in bonds for equipment and building repairs. The Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home received $350,000 to help with rising drug costs; that came on top of $150,000 lawmakers approved Wednesday.