After publishing remarks from Columbus Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre’s online report about the upcoming crucial seven last days in this year’s Georgia legislative session in which two state budgets must be adopted, I asked Columbus Republican State Sen. Seth Harp, who is giving up his seat to run for Insurance Commissioner, for his perspective on this year’s enormous challenge to state lawmakers.
Since the Legislature adopted the budget for the State in 2008 for the 2009 fiscal year, we have seen a huge loss of tax revenue for the state. Our projected revenue for 2009 was $21.4 Billion. The actual revenue that the State collected for 2009 is about $16 Billion. The revenue amount in 2010 fiscal year has continued to shrink to the level of $15 Billion. Simply put, our funds have shrunk by almost one-third (1/3). Being the state’s first priority, education is 67% of the total state budget with salaries being 80% of those expenditures. K-12 and Higher Education have received the smallest cuts.
For the first time in over 16 months, we saw a slight 1% increase in revenue funds in March 2010. We are a very long way from recovery.
We are trying to craft legislation that will generate some relief and prevent making the cuts that will have to occur if we don’t have additional revenue funds.
The first is the hospital bed fee, that will generate funds to help compensate the doctors and hospitals that treat the indigent. The fee will generate $128 million, which will go to the Indigent Care Fund. That amount, which will be matched by Federal Funds at a ratio of 3 to 1, will go directly to indigent care providers and maintain rural healthcare.
The second is fee increases for State services, such as filing fees for filing court cases.
These state services fee and the hospital bed fee revenue funds will allow a balanced budget to pass. If these bills don’t pass, then the deep across the board cuts that have received so much attention will have to occur.
Our Constitution requires a balanced budget. The “pie in the sky” idea that we will collect $1 billion from sales taxes is just that. Most of the offenders are no longer in business and have no assets. The idea that we will solve the shortfall by collecting unpaid sales taxes in 3 months is just dreaming. The effort to collect these taxes is going on as we speak.
Instead of playing politics, we MUST work to come up with ideas that allow our State to educate our children, protect our citizens from criminals and grow jobs for Georgians.
This requires bipartisan support, not pitting one side against the other for political gain for the upcoming elections.