The People’s Business: Day 37

April 25, 2010

As the 2010 Legislative Session begins to wind down, the Senate and House have worked with unprecedented coordination on key issues important to Georgia. While this has been one of our most challenging years in state history, the Senate has delivered on its promise to focus on our top priorities and pass a balanced budget, a property tax reform package, transportation funding and a transparent ethics bill.

Our number one priority and constitutional obligation this session has been passing a balanced budget that is fiscally sound. This has been an enormous challenge to do in light of the sharp decline in state revenues.

The Senate budget cut $2.6 billion in state spending, with most state agencies being reduced by more than 20%. The Senate accomplished this without raising taxes and worked diligently to maintain essential services, like education and Medicaid. When you consider that 80 percent of the budget that could be reduced is comprised of K-12 education, higher education, corrections and healthcare, our choices were not easy. The FY11 Senate budget is based on State General Fund and Motor Fuel Revenues equal to $16.5 billion. The FY11 revenue estimate reflects an 18% decline from the original FY09 General budget of $20.1 billion which is a $3.7 billion shortfall.

Making these cuts while also ensuring that important government services continue is a difficult task. There is not a silver bullet or a quick and easy fix to this challenge, but just like hard working families and small businesses across Georgia, we have worked diligently to find efficiencies and cost savings to balance the budget during these challenging times. It is amazing how doing a lot of little cost saving things can add up. Like the Benjamin Franklin proverb says, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

One example of this is HB981 which was passed on Wednesday. This bill allows law enforcement vehicles to be painted in a solid color, which cuts down on the cost to the state. The cost savings is equal to almost seven new cars for the state patrol. Another measure SB388 the Paper Reduction Act which passed earlier this session may seem like a small item, but will mean big long term savings in the future when added up. Currently there are many reports, journals and documents that agencies and departments must print. SB388 requires many of these to now be posted online instead of printing them. This not only makes government more transparent but it also cuts down significantly on cost.

Promoting ethical government as well as trust and accountability has always been an important priority to me. I believe all men and women are capable of falling both ethically and morally. Our founding fathers wisely structured our government with many checks and balances because they knew that even good men and women are corruptible. We are a nation of laws, and no man or woman is above the law. Having the trust of the people and a transparent government is vitally important.

Since Republicans took over leadership in the state legislature, Georgia has moved from being ranked 39th in our state’s ethic’s laws to 7th in the country according to independent nonpartisan groups. This session we continued to seek to improve on our work in this area thanks to the leadership of Senator Dan Moody. Because of Sen. Moody’s hard work on this bill, the House and Senate passed significant ethics legislation this week.

Below are just some of the provisions of the bill:
• Broaden the authority of the state Ethics Commission.
• Tighten reporting requirements for lobbyists and legislators.
• Increase fees and fines for lobbyists and legislators who break the law.
• Make it a crime to use state agencies or authorities to attack or harass someone.
• Require many local elected officials to file campaign disclosure reports with the Ethics Commission.

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Sen. Tommie Williams serves as President Pro Tempore. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Toombs, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached at 404.656.0089 or by email at tommie.williams@Senate.ga.gov.