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Friday, March 11, 2011 - 9:01am

House OK's Budget Plan

The House has approved an $18.25 billion spending plan that boosts health insurance premiums for state employees and teachers by 20 percent but also restores some money for school nurses and low-income Medicaid recipients.

The House voted 132-33 to approve the spending blueprint for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It now heads to the Senate.

The state is grappling with the loss of some $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars. Including the loss in money from
Washington, the budget is $1.7 billion leaner than the one for the current year.

Republicans called the plan fiscally-responsible for tough economic times. Rep. Terry England chairs the House Appropriations Committee. He says the plan reverts to 2001 spending levels, even though Georgia has 18 percent more people living here. He says that makes it a conservative budget.

“We have folks right now calling for smaller government, smaller government, less spending, less spending, and that’s what we’re showing on here – a very responsible budget. But at the same time, these people have to understand that as revenue increases, there are a lot of holes we would have to go back in and backfill --- K-12 education, and higher education and many other services across the state,” he said after the vote.

Despite the cuts, the measure would actually boost spending by 2 percent from the current fiscal year to $18.2 billion. The added expenditures reflect rising healthcare costs and other items. The budget would avoid cutting a proposed $7 million for preventive care. It would also add $1 million to funds for Meals on Wheels.

Some House Democrats voted against the budget, saying it would cut too much from education and that it's unfair to shift $100 million in Medicaid funding to pay for state healthcare benefits.

Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams said the budget would avoid a tax increase but only symbolically. Instead she said the state is balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and the old.

“While the state gets to say that we didn’t raise taxes, what we did is push the responsibility and the pain down to our local governments and to our taxpayers," she said after the vote. "I think that’s a problem and it reflects the wrong priorities.”

But the proposed budget also adds spending. It would provide $350,000 for the state’s 103 regional airports. That would trigger a $13 million federal match.

Rep. England says regional airports aid businesses and boost economic development. Companies both large and small often have jets they need to store, and the use of a regional airport is sometimes a factor when they consider relocations. These smaller general aviation airports also lend a hand with agriculture.

“When you look at South Georgia, you have crop dusters that need airports to land at, that are actually out there helping to control pest populations and weed populations and crops down there,” he said.


Associated Press