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John Douglas - FY09 budget proposals and police memorials

The General Assembly was in recess this week as legislators from across the state attended the annual budget hearings. Over the next few months as we look at the Fiscal Year 2009 budget proposals, we will focus on the things that are important to all Georgians - education, transportation, healthcare, and of course, natural resources.

Education

Members of the Appropriations Committee were pleased to see that the governor is building on his plan to keep all of Georgia's children in school. Last year, Gov. Sonny Perdue put money in the budget to add graduation coaches in Georgia's middle schools. It is troubling to think that thousands of children are not on track to graduate, and each year nearly 2,000 students drop out of school before the ninth grade. In fiscal year '09, Perdue has added $14 million to create the Very Important Parent Recruiter program for at-risk elementary, middle and high schools. Another $14.4 million will be put in the budget to continue funding the graduation coach program, and $6.4 million in lottery money for additional pre-kindergarten slots. This year, both budgets recognize how important it is to keep our kids in school, and I am confident we will continue to see success of programs like the graduation coaches.

Statewide trauma care

In 2006, a study committee met across the state to look closely at our trauma centers - or rather lack thereof. With more than 9 million citizens, Georgia has only four level-one trauma centers - hospitals that can treat any emergency. Those trauma centers provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week teams of trauma surgeons and other specialists capable of handling the most severe injuries within the "golden hour," that first hour after a traumatic injury, such as a car accident or a gunshot wound. This "golden hour" often means the difference between life and death or long-term disability.

It is expensive to fund level-one and level-two trauma centers, and the price tag to increase these centers by 15 to sufficiently care for those injured in this state is going to be close to $85 million. The governor recognizes the enormous toll that traffic accidents and trauma care exact on Georgia and its citizens. According to the Governor's Office, traffic accidents not only cost billions of dollars each year, but also take hundreds of lives.

We have several ideas to fund the trauma centers. One idea is to increase fines on those who engage in reckless behavior - including those who disobey speed limit laws in this state, and those who drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol on our highways. The governor's "Super Speeder" legislation is one possible source of funding for a statewide trauma network, but we need to consider all possibilities when it comes to this important issue. He is recommending $53 million for the State Trauma Commission to reimburse physicians, EMS providers and trauma hospitals for uncompensated care. Much of this funding could be derived from the implementation of the new Super Speeder laws.

Reservoirs - increasing capacity

I was quite pleased to see the governor's commitment to increasing water storage capacity in the state. As you know, the ongoing drought has become a major issue for state leaders who are now moving quickly to ensure that future generations of Georgians will always have a constant supply of fresh, clean water. The governor has recommended the inclusion of $120 million in the amended FY '08 and FY '09 budgets for new water projects. This includes $11 million in existing resources to fully fund both the resource assessments and regional planning components of the Statewide Water Plan, which passed both chambers of the General Assembly last week. In addition, $40 million has been included in the amended FY '08 budget, while $30 million in bonds were recommended in the FY '09 budget for the planning, design and construction of new water reservoirs.

Keep in mind that all fiscal requests made to the General Assembly and the governor's recommendations are subject to change. There is no guarantee that any or all of these funds will be appropriated to a particular agency or program. As legislators, it is our responsibility to ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently, and several changes could be made before the amended FY '08 and FY '09 budgets become law.

In addition to the budget, I took time this week to attend the memorial service for two DeKalb County police officers recently killed in the line of duty. Both officers left behind young children who will grow up without fathers. We are all reminded of how dangerous public safety work really is, that these men and women stand between us and chaos and that while we are at home or elsewhere, they are standing watch to ensure our safety. Too often we only hear about them when something goes wrong. But 99 percent of them are honest, hard working and there when we need them. I greatly appreciate what they do for us and hope they remain safe in their duties.

As always, please remember to contact me in my office on the issues that are affecting you and your area. I am here to represent you and it is an honor for me to work on your behalf.

State Sen. John Douglas serves as chairman of the Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee. He represents the 17th Senate District, which includes Newton County and portions of Henry, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton counties. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-0503 or by e-mail at john.douglas@senate.ga.gov.