After 130 years of being on the outside looking in, Repub-licans are finally able to sit at the head table of state government. The Republican Party how holds the governors office and the state Senate, and has a substantial base in the state House as well.
Shortly after the inaugural celebration ended, however, we were disappointed as the governor proposed a budget that includes significant tax increases.
It is true that Gov. Sonny Perdue inherited this particular budget mess from the previous administration, which shows a $620 million shortfall for the coming year if strong measures are not taken. What many of us in the Legislature do not accept, however, is that a tax hike is needed to address the issue.
Much has been made of the growth in state spending over the past few years, but it should be noted that the state budget as a percentage of the states economy is essentially the same as it was 10 years ago. When economic times are good, its possible to spread the budgetary cheer beyond what are considered core government services. Unfortunately, our long economic growth party has come to an end, and we must re-examine every area of state spending and determine the difference between those things that are nice to have, and those things that we need to have.
The good news is that this governor is very open to working with the Legislature, and we intend to be full partners in this process. We have been handed a challenge and I believe we will not fail. You are certain to hear great wailing and gnashing of teeth from deeply entrenched interest groups who are used to bellying up to the government trough without any interference.
It will be said that we are cutting essential services or have turned our backs on some worthy class of recipients. I assure you that those who are most in need of government assistance will continue to receive it, but I also assure you that no branch or agency of your government will escape close examination in this process.
My guess would be that funding requests that support educational excellence, economic growth or safety net services will be well-received; all others must be considered subject to being reduced or eliminated until our economy recovers. While this will be a difficult session for these reasons, it provides us with a good opportunity to streamline the delivery of state services, which should serve us well in the future.
I will continue to serve on the Appropriations Committee and the Insurance Committee, and have a new assignment on the Economic Develop-ment and Tourism Committee. From these vantage points I will not only be engaged in a thorough review of the state budget, but will be able to participate in laying the foundation for sound fiscal and economic policies going forward.
Our state faces some hard choices in the near future, and we must lay partisanship and pettiness aside in order to work together for the good of all Georgia. I appreciate the opportunity to serve you in the Legislature, and welcome your thoughts and ideas.
(State Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, represents the 80th Distict in the Georgia House of Representatives.)
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