Georgia’s school teachers and college professors are in line for a 3.5 percent salary increase and state employees will get a 2.5 percent bump in the $16.2 billion state budget Gov. Roy Barnes is proposing for fiscal year 2003.
Barnes’ spending plan carries forward the departmental cutbacks ordered in the fiscal 2002 budget, but still includes an extra $353 million for continued property tax relief for the state’s homeowners and new spending on education programs in addition to the $274 million set aside for the pay raises.
“We need to tighten our belts but protect the services that our citizens depend on,” Barnes told a joint session of the House and Senate. “We need to cut taxes to put more money in the hands of Georgians – not raise taxes, as some states are actually considering in order to make ends meet during these trying times.”
“The framework of the budget he’s laid out is a very good start and I think the Senate will be supportive of his plan,” Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor said.
The governor’s proposal was immediately attacked by Republican leaders who said it didn’t do nearly enough in the area of tax relief.
“We have been hit as hard as any state in America during this recession with a loss of 100,000 jobs,” state GOP Chairman Ralph Reed said. “We should have a much larger tax cut and it should be accelerated . . . he’s proposing massive borrowing expenditures for bonds, and the way to get this economy going is broader and deeper tax cuts.”
“The recession in Georgia can be laid at the feet of the Democrats who spent more than 90 percent of the $2.5 billion surplus revenue in the last three years,” said Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson (R-Savannah).
“They spent it adding new programs, hiring new bureaucrats and creating new agencies,” Johnson added. “It sucked the capital out of the private sector and reduced our families’ budgets.”
Barnes called the Republican criticism “the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever seen” and added, “I’m going to give them a calculator. There needs to be a remedial math program for Ralph and the Republican leadership. We’d have to cut teacher pay 30 percent to fund what they’re proposing (in tax cuts).”
“There are not cash revenues lying around to cut taxes with,” Taylor said. “You’d have to include deep cuts in services to pay for the tax cuts. Let’s be specific about what you would cut (in services).”
The governor’s proposed budget adds money in the following areas:
The supplemental budget for 2002, which Barnes unveiled last week, includes the issuance of $1.3 million in bonds for state construction projects that the governor said will act as a stimulus to the economy. The 2003 budget includes no additional bond funding – “we’ve got to go ahead and get those bonds sold to take advantage of the low interest rates,” Barnes said.
Taylor said he would work for Senate approval of the bond package, but did not want to add to the $1.3 billion already proposed.
The lieutenant governor said he will also ask senators for a significant reduction in local assistance grants to cities and counties, a prime source of pork-barrel funding. The current budget includes about $23 million in those local grants and “I would like to see those reduced by 50 percent, which would be about $10 million to $12 million,” Taylor said.
Barnes noted that his continuing efforts to upgrade the state’s schools were modeled after George W. Bush’s education initiatives in Texas and in the new national education bill signed into law last week.
“In fact, a lot of the same things we’re doing here were already done in Texas, and will now be done at the national level,” Barnes said.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the people of Georgia can tell the difference between an imitation and the real McCoy, and Barnes is a pale imitation,” Reed said.