To rectify a more than $2 billion budget deficit, state legislators said Tuesday during a breakfast meeting that they intend to cut government spending when the General Assembly convenes in January.
"What we're facing right now are some very difficult times," state House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Evans, said at the annual Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Pre-Legislative Breakfast. "We have some tough choices to make."
Decreased revenues extend beyond Georgia's borders, Harbin said. About 40 states are reporting a total of $30 billion in deficits, he said.
In Georgia, most state offices cut about 6 percent from its budgets while education officials had to trim about 2 percent, Harbin said.
Educators might be called upon to make more cuts to balance the budget, state Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, said.
To fund other state programs, Johnson suggested lawmakers consider alternative revenue sources, such as a $10 annual license plate fee to pay for a trauma care network or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for transportation projects. In some instances, private businesses might be allowed to build roads and then charge a toll for their use, he said.
Though he agreed with Johnson that more cuts and alternative revenue sources will be needed, Harbin said there is no need to feel "despondent."
"We've faced tough times before," he said. "We survived."
Certainly, Harbin said, adjusting priorities is needed to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent on programs that are deemed necessary.
"We can't do all the frills without taking it (money) from priorities," he said.
Perhaps a bright spot during the current recession might be the re-instatement of the Homestead Tax Relief Grant eliminated by Gov. Sonny Perdue earlier this year, Johnson said.
Feeling that area government and school officials were surprised by the grant cuts after most had already set their budgets, Johnson said he intends to ask Perdue to dip into the state's $1 billion reserve to restore the grants for next year.
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