Lawmakers hear impact of budget proposals

By Michael Davis

After a week of budget hearings, lawmakers are set to resume the 2004 legislative session Monday. Later in the week, they will start to shore up what the new budget will include.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has proposed drastic spending shifts that could affect several key areas, officials say.

But some lawmakers are afraid that budget proposal and inherent cuts, will impact services more than necessary.

State officials addressed legislators throughout the week on their budgetary needs and how they would be affected by the governor's proposal.

Rep. George Maddox, D-Decatur, said that several school boards have told him cuts would take millions out of their operating budgets. "That's a lot of money," Maddox said. "We've got to come up with a better formula."

The governor has also proposed a 2 percent pay raise for some teachers and state employees with an estimated cost of $100 million, which has raised concerns among many lawmakers.

"Don't get me wrong, I think they need it," Maddox said. But, like others, he asked where funding would come from, especially in light of cash-strapped local school systems.

Healthcare funding may also take a hit under Gov. Perdue's budget proposal.

Rep. Ron Dodson, D-Lake City, sits on the Health and Human Services committee. He said the governor's proposal would cut some funding for a nurse-training program established a couple of years ago. "The governor cut it out and we're trying to get it back in on the House side," Dodson said.

The governor's proposal would also change eligibility requirements for Medicaid and Peachcare recipients to pay more in premiums based on their income, potentially putting the program out of reach for some.

Lawmakers in opposition say that more people would be going to hospital emergency rooms instead of doctors. "It's going to build on a graduated scale?the more you make, the more you have to pay," Dodson said. "I think it's a pretty fair way to do that but I hope it doesn't create a hardship at our hospitals."

Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta, said that if people are left without health coverage, it would cost more in the long-run. "It's going to be devastating to about 27,000 folks that" are currently covered, he said.

Lawmakers are expected to begin discussing the details of the budget in subcommittee meetings next week but the budget might not be finalized until sometime near the end of the term.