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Legislative delegation predicts more budget cuts

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

With some state lawmakers expecting further cuts in the state budget, members of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation are urging local leaders to develop a comprehensive plan as how to best spend the county's state dollars.

Expecting 3 percent or more in new budget cuts in the state's amended 2010 budget, Clayton legislators informed local leaders that funding may need to be pulled from certain state-funded programs, and that some programs could be cut entirely.

State Reps. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood), Glenn Baker (D-Jonesboro), Ron Dodson (D-Lake City), as well as State Sen. Gail Buckner (D-Morrow) spoke to constituents on Thursday, during a breakfast program hosted by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce at Clayton State University.

During the meeting, members of the delegation told leaders to expect funding shortages, and prompted them to identify priorities and establish public-private partnerships. "This is going to be a challenging session for us," said Glanton, the delegation's chairman.

"We've had a decrease in [state] revenue for the last 8 or 9 months," he said. "Even though the governor did those cuts earlier in July, we are expecting, at least, 3 percent more in cuts. We believe this session is going to lend itself to a lot of budget cuts, which will lead to many programs not just being cut, but being eliminated," he warned. "It will be extremely important that we hear from our constituents. We're no longer able to rely on government, whether it's federal, state, or local, to carry the local burden. Citizens are going to have to, eventually, enter public-private partnerships to not only keep us afloat, but move us forward."

According to Bert Brantley, spokesman for the Office of the Governor, the state's fiscal 2009 budget was originally $21.4 billion, but was chopped down to $18.6 billion, due to shortages caused by the recession. At the beginning of fiscal 2010, the state cut another $900 million, Brantley said.

Brantley said Gov. Sonny Perdue will give his "State of the State" address on Wednesday, Jan. 13, two days after the Georgia Assembly begins its next legislative session, at which time the governor will announce any further budget cuts.

"Economists are saying that there are a lot of positive signs in the economy," Brantley said. "The stock market is up, housing values are up. We just haven't seen those signs in state revenues ... the declines have been very sharp. If those continue, we will need more cuts."

Brantley said the state is presently spending 60 percent of its budget to collectively fund state education at the K-12 and university levels. He said that while funding education will be a "top priority" of the governor, same cuts may have to be made.

"We've cut education less than anything else," he said. "If you don't cut from that at all, you are going to have to cut from the other 40 percent, which would devastate public safety and health care. When they [legislators] get here, there will be some tough decisions to make. It will take everybody here to come together in making these decisions."

While the Clayton County delegation will explore transportation funding and statewide water conservation efforts, members of the delegation said education funding and job creation will top the list of their priorities going into the legislative session.

They urged local leaders to support pro-business legislation, and to create ways to better use funds the county does get from the state on education and job-creation efforts. "I think business development is the key to our survival," Glanton said. "The more money we put into economic development, the less we'll have to spend on social programs."

"We desperately need to put people back to work," Delegation Vice Chairman Buckner said. "Right now, I am thinking about engineers, teachers, and nurses ... We've got to put emphasis on some education efforts that can help encourage young people to go into those areas. All elected officials need to start coming to the table and start working together. In this serious economic climate we are in, we don't have [the] time or resources to wait."