“I think we had a good session,” said state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle. “We held back on spending but at the same time, funded programs that needed to be funded. We’ve got a good budget for fiscal year 2009.”
He said the state budget that ultimately passed was set at $21.2 billion, $300 million less than Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposed budget. He said the cuts had been made due to the economic slowdown.
“I was particularly pleased with the expansion of gun rights and the anti-illegal immigration bills,” Douglas said.
The gun-rights bill in question was House Bill 89, which expanded the number of places that holders of concealed-carry permits can bring their weapons. The immigration bills, Douglas said, mostly concerned confiscating the vehicles of illegal immigrants.
State Sen. Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, listed improvements in public education, water supply and health-care access as achievements of the recent session.
“We were successful in addressing many important education initiatives in the state budget including $50 million in new education funding meant to repay austerity cuts to public education,” Chance said in a press release.
He went on to say that the combination of this and $53 million from the fiscal year 2008 amended budget meant more than $100 million in additional education funding. He said the budget also includes $10 million in bonds for “low wealth” school districts and $92 million in school-construction money.
Chance also said the fiscal year 2008 and 2009 budgets included $17.3 million for trauma care providers in the state trauma network. The fiscal year 2009 budget includes $341 million, including $98 million in state funds, to fully fund PeachCare for Kids, $3 million for community health centers and $13.6 million for state mental hospitals.
Chance also cited the state water plan (House Resolution 1022), which he said will ensure that future water needs will be met, and the Water Conservation and Drought Relief Act (Senate Bill 342), which will allow communities to apply for state funding to enlarge existing reservoirs and obtain permits to construct new ones. The bill also creates a state-local partnership to secure federal reservoir permits, thus streamlining the process. Chance went on to say that the budget includes $70 million in reservoir funding and $1 million for repairs on existing reservoirs and for local water and sewer upgrades.
In a press release, state Rep. John Yates, R-Griffin, cited the state water plan and the Water Conservation and Drought Relief Act as a successful part of the Republican legislative agenda. Both of these bills passed the House and Senate. Two measures that did not pass, however, were bills that would allow local taxpayers to pass a 1-cent sales tax to pay for transportation improvements and the property tax relief generally known as the “GREAT Plan.”
According to the release, the first measure failed in the Senate by three votes, while the later lacked support from the lieutenant governor. However, Yates said the so-called “GREAT Plan” sent a signal to local officials that there is a limit to how much property tax they can collect.
Yates also said in the release that after four years of trying, he successfully passed two local bills.
“The chief magistrate has constables that go throughout the county serving papers and they carry a weapon,” Yates said in a later interview.
Under the law, as it was originally written, constables could carry their weapons throughout the county but not in their courthouse offices. Yates attributed this to the writer of the original bill leaving “constables” out. This oversight has now been corrected.
The second local bill deals with the retirement of county judges and assistant district attorneys (ADA).
Yates said that under the original law, if someone served as a county-paid ADA or a judge, he or she did not receive retirement credit for time served under the county system prior to the state takeover of the retirement system. The local bill allows those employees to “pick up” the time served, up to five years, if the employee pays the cost of vesting into the system.
“They would have to prove that a retirement system was not available to them,” Yates said.
A statement from the county manager would suffice.
State Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, could not be reached for comment.