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From the Desk of Rep. Jim Cole – Legislative Update as of March 23

Dear Friend: Last week, the Georgia House of Representatives passed House Bill 119, the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget. This budget totals $18.6 billion and funds the operation of the state government and its departments, boards, bureaus, commissions, institutions, and other agencies. The budget also funds the University System of Georgia, technical colleges, K-12 schools, and all other governmental activities, projects and undertakings authorized by law. This budget will direct the funding of Georgia from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. The current economic downturn has resulted in decreased state revenues used to meet Georgia’s needs. These losses have required the House of Representatives to cut the Fiscal Year 2010 budget by about $2.6 billion, a 12.3% reduction from the original 2009 budget. Currently, revenues collected from Georgia taxpayers are down $3.1 billion or 15.5% as compared to 2008 state revenues. The House 2010 budget also utilizes $1.4 billion in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. These federal funds allow us to combat the budget shortfalls and maintain some programs that might otherwise have to be eliminated or significantly reduced. Among the organizations supported by these stimulus funds are the Department of Education, Department of Community Health, Department of Human Resources, and multiple public safety agencies. Unfortunately, although federal stimulus funds and money from the state’s reserve fund have helped mitigate the effects of the revenue shortfall, some state programs and services will be significantly reduced. These cuts were not taken lightly and were put in place only after considerable study. Just as every family in Georgia feels the effects of the economic downturn, the state government does as well. No agency escaped scrutiny and they are all facing some level of reduction. Due to the magnitude of the economic downturn, it is inevitable that expenditures for education be included as a part of the reduced spending. Despite the cuts, Georgia is devoting a higher percentage of the budget to K-12 education. While the overall education portion has been reduced, the reductions to K-12 are much less than cuts to other agencies. In fact, education spending accounts for 46% of the House 2010 Budget. This is an even higher percentage than in years past. Additionally, the House fully funded school nurses to ensure that our children have access to health care while attending class. Funding the state’s health care system was aided by the addition of over $450 million from the Federal Medical Assistance Program. These funds, along with $200 million from the federal stimulus package, allowed us to fully fund Medicaid programs. Medicaid provider rates will also remain at the current level for this fiscal year. This budget conservatively applies federal funding to existing programs. While these funds have enabled us to alleviate the painful effects of our decreased revenue, we must remember that they are only a short term solution. The stimulus package is a one-time fix that will not be available for the 2011 Budget. This is why we have worked so hard during this session to pass economic recovery packages such as the JOBS Act. Legislation like this will speed Georgia’s economic recovery by allowing the private sector to grow and for the creation of new jobs. The decisions made at the State Capitol affect all Georgians, especially during the tough times we are all facing. Your opinions and concerns are very important to me and I consider it an honor to serve you. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Capitol office @ 404-651-7737 or via e-mail jmalcolmcole@hotmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Representative Jim Cole

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