State freezes local project grants

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ATLANTA -- The General Assembly has agreed to freeze $6 million in spending on local projects as state officials continue to look for ways to deal with a looming budget crisis.

Local governments use the funds, known as “local assistance grants,” to cover expenses ranging from video systems for police cars to playground equipment for city parks. The funding has periodically come under fire as a blatant example of pork-barrel spending, though lawmakers say the projects are badly needed.

Legislative leaders, though, say the possibility of a shortfall that could reach $1.8 billion makes it necessary to take a second look at the projects when the Legislature convenes in January. The state’s revenue situation has soured each of the last two months.

“Although Local Assistance Grants are important to local communities, we cannot ignore the budget shortfall and must hold back this money until January when we will re-prioritize based on the limited resources available,” House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, said in a statement released by his office.

Richardson’s chamber received about $2.8 million in local assistance grants in the budget for the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30. The Senate received the other $3.2 million, according to figures provided by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s office.

In a letter to senators dated Tuesday, Cagle pointed out that other agencies have been asked to trim their budgets to try to help with the state’s perilous financial situation.

“Local assistance grants should not be exempt, and I respectfully ask for you to let my office know if you or the communities you represent feel that these appropriations are in fact vital to the daily functions of state government,” Cagle wrote.

Legislators technically cannot hold the grants; instead, the leadership asked Gov. Sonny Perdue to do so. Perdue Press Secretary Bert Brantley said the governor has been hesitant to halt the funding without the Legislature’s consent and would follow the request.

“We didn’t want to assume anything,” Brantley said.


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