Funding for MCG restored

ATLANTA --- The General Assembly signed off on an $18.6 billion budget Friday night that avoids raising health insurance costs and restores funding for the Medical College of Georgia.

The House and Senate overwhelmingly adopted the spending plan Friday night.

"In this kind of economy, Augusta came out very well," said Rep. Ben Harbin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He noted that with tax collections down 15.5 percent, the budget is $3 billion less than the current one.

The budget included a $250,000 cut to the National Science Center's Fort Discovery.

Mr. Harbin, an Evans Republican, said he had wanted to fully fund Fort Discovery, but both Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Senate chose to eliminate all funding.

Rob Dennis, the National Science Center's chief executive, said a deep budget cut would force his staff to consider cutting back or moving.

Mr. Perdue had marked the Augusta-based Georgia Medical Center Authority for elimination, but the Legislature wound up funding a quarter of the authority's $400,000 appropriation for the incubator of high-tech start-ups.

The Senate had also called for cutting $11 million in research funding at MCG. Mr. Harbin said his conference committee restored that money.

The school also is getting $6 million in bonds for construction of the "commons" building, $27 million for expansion of the dentistry school and $7.7 million for expansion of the medical school at the campus in Athens.

The budget assumes the Department of Human Resources will find a private company to operate a pair of centralized mental hospitals that would eventually replace most of the seven regional hospitals. East Central Regional Hospital at Gracewood would be reduced but remain the home for the most profoundly mentally retarded.

The Augusta delegation also won passage of a bill to restructure the Coliseum Authority. The legislation would remove all the current board members and replace them with a seven-member board. The Augusta Commission would appoint six of the members to the new board, and the delegation would appoint the seventh. None of the current members could be re-appointed until they take a 12-month break.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.