Ga. lawmakers forgo cost of living raise

ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia lawmakers on Monday chose to give up a 3 percent cost of living raise as the state grapples with a widening budget deficit.

Georgia 236 state legislators were expected to add the raise to their $17,341 base salary when they returned for the 2009 session on Jan. 12.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson proposed the change, arguing state workers are not getting a cost of living bump and neither should lawmakers.

"We didn't think it was the right thing to do," said Richardson, R-Hiram.

Leaders voted to defer the raise during a meeting of the Legislative Services Committee. The change does not require the full Legislature's approval and garnered bipartisan support. The committee had gathered for a lawmakers' training session at the University of Georgia in Athens.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, praised the move.

"As we face tremendous budget challenges, it is appropriate that we do our part," Johnson said.

Georgia's lawmakers meet for what is typically a 40-day session and their salaries are only a piece of their total compensation.

They also receive a daily $173 allowance for expenses like food and lodging for attending legislative sessions and committee meetings. And they are eligible for $7,000 a year in expense account money, which they can use for operating expenses.

Georgia is facing a budget deficit expected top $1.6 billion for the fiscal year that began July 1. Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered state agencies to cut spending by at least 6 percent, but his office said deeper cuts are likely needed as the economy worsens.

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