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Lawmakers to begin taking furloughs Aug. 1

COVINGTON - Georgia lawmakers will begin a one day a month furlough in August in response to the state budget crisis.

"Given the fact that state employees in all areas of our government are being furloughed, we believe that Representatives and Senators should likewise be furloughed," House Speaker Glenn Richardson said in a letter to lawmakers dated July 15.

"While there may be no clear legal authority to reduce the salary of General Assembly members during a term of office, I believe that there is a greater obligation for us, as leaders of this state, to carry a part of the financial burden that we are asking of other state employees," he added.

The state's legislative session ended in April, but the 180 lawmakers in the House and 56 lawmakers in the Senate are still receiving paychecks as part of their annual salaries.

State legislators make an average of about $17,000 a year, meaning the furlough could cost some lawmakers less than $100 each month.

"It's really only a token. Our salaries are low to start with," said State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle.

Holt said the furloughs could save about $200,000. The furloughs will run through the end of the calendar year and will be revisited in January 2010.

"The point behind it is if we're going to be furloughing people around the state, we should expect the same ourselves," he said.

The state is facing a $900 million shortfall for fiscal year 2010, which began July 1.

In June, the last month of the 2009 fiscal year, revenues were down 15.7 percent from June 2008, according to Richardson. Total state revenues were down 10.5 percent for the year.

"Unfortunately, due to the revenues being lower than even projected, we have used virtually all of the revenue shortfall reserve account," Richardson said, adding that the financial picture for fiscal year 2010 looks bleak.

Gov. Sonny Perdue is consulting with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Richardson on how to balance the budget, as required by the state constitution, Holt said.

"That's a lot of money. We've already taken away the low-hanging fruit. We're going to have to do some more difficult things," he said.

The hope is that the governor will be able to make the cuts administratively, rather than call a special session, which could cost taxpayers about $45,000 per day.

But, as the shortfall grows, "We start getting into levels of cuts that may require legislative authorization," Holt said.

"We're only going to do it if it is legally necessary. We're not going to go in just for the pleasure of having a special session," he said.

Lawmakers have already cut the budget by about $2.5 billion, with funding in some areas being cut by 10 percent.

The legislature tried to cut education, public safety and courts the least, Holt said, but noted that since education takes up 45 percent of the budget, it couldn't be totally spared, and was cut about 5 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.