The fiscal 2010 budget was still in the Senate's hands last week, as their Appropriations Committee reviewed the bill. However, the recently released February revenue numbers have us wondering whether this budget will have to be cut even further. State revenue during February was down an incredible 34.8 percent, compared to February 2008. Contrast this to a drop of 14.3 percent for January, and 8.9 percent in December. It's possible that this astounding plunge is some kind of statistical fluke, perhaps due to a slowed pace of businesses and taxpayers filing their 2008 returns. If such is not the case, and the trend continues, some rather dramatic budget decisions will be in order. Gov. Perdue may have to call the General Assembly back for a special session later this year to deal with the problem. For now, all we can do is wait on further information.
In regular business, Senate legislation began emerging from the House committee system last week, and we considered 22 bills and resolutions. Several were significant or interesting. SB 13 would allow imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for life without parole for murder, even if prosecutors choose not to seek the death penalty. Current law requires punishment either by death, or by life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. The bill would create an option for a perceived gray area between those two sentences. It passed unanimously.
SB 44 seeks to strengthen the purchasing preferences directing state and local governments to buy in Georgia, within reasonable and practical limits. In our present economy, the need for this goes without saying. I supported the bill, and it passed by 157 to 5.
SB 165 would grant the Department of Community Health (DCH) the ability to verify income eligibility of applicants for Medicaid and PeachCare, via the Department of Revenue. Present provisions require applicants to state their income, but do not give DCH the authority to verify such figures. This is a pretty commonsense change, so I voted "yes," and the bill passed by 155 to 7.
SB 210 would make home schooled students eligible to participate in the summer Georgia honors program. Since that program was intended for the whole state, I can't see why any legitimate Georgia students should be excluded. I voted for the bill, and it passed unanimously.
Now for some transportation developments. As reported previously, both House and Senate had passed a version of a referendum based 1 percent sales tax for transportation funding. The versions were sufficiently different (one being statewide, and the other more of a local option program) that little progress had been made in reconciling them. However, the House has adopted a version that contains both options, with the public choosing between them in a referendum. Hopefully this will form a basis from which a final compromise can be reached.
SB 200, the transportation governance bill, is undergoing rapid transformation. With the House Transportation Committee continuing to make significant amendments to the bill, Speaker Richardson has offered a major compromise. His new draft of the bill keeps the existing DOT and its leadership structure largely intact, while adding a director of planning position that would be appointed by the governor. Otherwise, it still offers the changes to planning, funding and legislative oversight proposed in the original version. This will likely pass muster with those of us in the House. Whether it will please the Senate and the governor is quite another question. I still hope we can find a leadership solution satisfactory to all, so we can move forward with the other provisions.
I had a chance to visit with several folks this week. Sid and Mary Garner, from south Newton, came by to watch the House and Senate in action. Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton was at the Capitol for a presentation and other business, and we had the chance to chat for a few minutes.
State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Covington, represents the 112th House District, which includes the eastern portion of Newton County and most of Morgan County. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-0152, or by e-mail at Doug@DougHolt.org.