The General Assembly was in recess this week as some legislators traveled to Washington for the inauguration of our new president and then from Wednesday to Friday as many of us attended the annual state budget hearings.
Jan. 20 saw all Americans celebrate the peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time in our history. No other country can claim such a record, and we all hold dear our Constitution and traditions that make such a thing possible. While I pray for the well being of our new president, I have serious concerns about his very liberal tendencies and likely policies.
Meanwhile, here in Georgia as we prepare a budget over the next few months, we will focus on the things that are important to all of us - education, transportation and healthcare.
The meetings began on Wednesday with Gov. Sonny Perdue outlining his budget proposal, emphasizing the need for government to provide the most value to its citizens with the resources available. He noted that education funding is critically important in shaping the state's future, and has proposed a $1.2 billion bond package to invest in education infrastructure. Perdue also encouraged passage of his "Super Speeder" legislation, where fines for excessive speeding will be dedicated to funding a trauma care network. This proposal, which the governor has attempted to pass before, answers the call from many across the state to strengthen Georgia's limited trauma care system.
Departments and agencies then delivered presentations focused on what impact a $2.2 billion budget shortfall will have on their programs. Despite decreased funding, state School Superintendent Kathy Cox outlined several new goals she plans to implement to meet the pressing needs of Georgia's students, including increasing high school graduation rates, strengthening teacher quality, improving students' workforce readiness skills, developing strong educational leaders, improving test scores, and creating policies that ensure the maximum academic and financial accountability.
A major concern of my colleagues and I in the General Assembly is the proposed reduction in school nurses for 2010. Perdue has suggested the elimination of $30 million in state support for school health programs, which includes nurses. Although state money does not completely fund school nurses and health programs, it does help local school systems offset the cost. Nurses are contracted through this year, but could be eliminated in 2010. We cannot afford to lose our school nurses that provide essential care and services to our youth. I will continue to look into this issue throughout the session.
Hearings continued on Thursday in which legislators heard how budget cuts would affect the Department of Transportation's (DOT) ability to meet transportation needs across the state. DOT Commissioner Gena Evans assured the committees that the department paid careful attention to cutting costs without sacrificing service, but noted that the legislature will need to redirect funds in order for the department to meet immediate transportation needs in FY 2010. The department currently faces a $189 million shortfall for FY 2009. A large portion of the department's revenue is derived from the state's motor fuel tax, which in June took a significant hit when Perdue suspended an increase in the state gas tax due to sharply rising gas prices.
The Department of Public Safety also focused on operational reductions made to meet budget cuts. Several legislators raised concerns about the lack of troops focused on highway safety. The commissioner stated that despite budget cutbacks, there is a focus on highway and interstate safety in the most troublesome areas around the state.
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 a firstname.lastname@example.org.