Funding for an important project for our community is being threatened by a philosophical fight in the Georgia Legislature - and common sense needs to prevail.
The state Senate, led by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, is pushing for greater restraint in spending from the state's mid-year or "supplemental" budget.
It's about time someone did so. But cutting funding for the badly needed dental school at the Medical College of Georgia is the wrong place to start.
Here's what is going on: Georgia is prohibited by its constitution from running a deficit. To make sure that doesn't happen, lawmakers each year forecast modest tax revenues, and then base the fiscal year budget on that lowball figure.
Then, in the next legislative session, lawmakers make mid-year adjustments with the surplus funds that result. Some of the expenditures make good sense, such as the millions of dollars to fill funding gaps for schools with higher enrollments than predicted. This is especially important for fast-growing systems such as Columbia County.
Unfortunately, the mid-year budget also has provided funding for the state's worst pork abuses. The low point perhaps came when the Democratic leadership used the 2002 supplemental budget to pay for a $122,000 bronze statue of a mule for a south Georgia expo - hardly the kind of "emergency" taxpayers expect.
Not long after, Republicans took over at the Capitol. They tout themselves as more fiscally conservative, and Cagle has been trying to reinforce that message.
While his effort is right, he's done two things wrong: First, he announced his dedication to belt-tightening only after the House had approved its version of the supplemental budget, leaving fellow Republican lawmakers feeling stabbed in the back.
Worse, Cagle's action threatens $5 million in design funding for a new MCG dental school.
State Rep. Barry Fleming is fighting back. "I'm going to make the case to everyone I can talk to that this is not pork," he says. Fleming well knows the state's only dental school is stuffed into rooms that can't be expanded because of asbestos problems.
The $5 million is for architectural designs to keep the new school on track for construction, and it is justifiable as a mid-year budget addition - unlike such items as $19,000 for library equipment on St. Simons Island, or $350,000 for Zoo Atlanta.
Fiscal conservatism in Georgia's budget is welcome. But it has to come with common sense. As lawmakers work out a compromise budget in the coming days, MCG supporters should call on local legislators to help bring some of that common sense to the table.
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