Gov. Sonny Perdue released a spending plan Friday that will mean more furlough days for teachers and other state employees and proposes to cut entire programs to make up for lagging revenues.
On Friday, state Reps. Doug Collins and Carl Rogers, both Gainesville Republicans, said they had not studied the proposed spending plan. But Rogers said he is already beginning to hear from constituents about pieces of it.
"I’m already getting calls about it, especially the 2011 budget, the recommended cuts, so this is the hard part," Rogers said. "... We have to do what we think is right."
To keep the state in the black, Perdue’s spending plan calls for whole programs to be scrapped, including a $12 million program to help local school systems improve their teaching programs as well as the $200,000 Vidalia Onion Research Project. Job layoffs are sprinkled throughout the budget.
Perdue cut another $1.2 billion from the $18.6 billion spending plan for the current fiscal year. Tax revenues are lagging about 14 percent behind what they had been the previous year.
But the governor also sounded an optimistic note Friday, saying he believes the state has hit bottom.
"I believe that we are through the free fall," Perdue said.
Funding for schools is suffering, but the cuts are not as deep as they are to other agencies, thanks in part to another infusion of federal stimulus funds. Education will see a 3 percent cut overall, while other state agencies are grappling with cuts of between 8 and 9 percent.
Still, schools will join other state agencies in implementing three more unpaid furlough days over the next six months.
Local school district leaders said they are on track to use the recent snow days as furloughs and will not make up the days at the end of the school year.
Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said she was pleased there were no more than three furlough days, but is anxious to see how much more the final education budget will be cut.
"I was expecting worse than the three furlough days," she wrote in an e-mail. "We will use the snow days, and hopefully, will use further snow days. We planned to address the decision about furlough days (at) our February Board work session, thinking that this would give us time to be sure of what we are facing."
Most school systems already have taken three furlough days.
Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said he hopes the legislature will leave the teacher furlough days at six total for the school year.
"I will be surprised if that changes much," he said.
As far as the proposed amended budget for fiscal year 2010, which ends June 30, Schofield said cuts do not appear to be too drastic for K-12 education.
"I was pleased that there does not appear to be large additional cuts to our (per student) allotment," he said. "We appear to be losing some transportation, equalization and school nutrition funding. Additionally, I see we will be using some more of the current surplus in the health insurance fund to reduce expenditures."
About $900 million in cuts for the fiscal year have already been implemented as Perdue in July ordered state agencies to tighten their belts.
The budget Perdue released Friday contains no tax increase. But it does revive a proposal that would charge hospitals and health insurance plans a 1.6 percent fee on their total revenues. The fee is needed to avoid sharp cuts to the Medicaid program for the state’s poorest residents, he said.
Perdue made the same proposal last year and ran headlong into stiff opposition from conservative legislators who had pledged not to raise taxes or fees to fill the budget gap. Federal stimulus dollars allowed Georgia to avoid the fee last year but that money is set to run dry.
The issue may be controversial, Collins said.
"It came up last year and never really gained any traction so we’ll just have to see how it works out this year," Collins said.
Legislators must approve the spending plans and lawmakers can tinker liberally with the governor’s recommendations. But they cannot change the amount of money the state has to spend. Georgia is required by its Constitution to balance its budget.
"I’m sure now that he’s presented his ideas, I’m sure we’ll be able to start taking those ideas and crafting a budget that will reflect the values of the House," Collins said. "And then of course the Senate will have its input, so it’s all a work in progress at this point."
Perdue laid out two budget proposals on Friday. One covers the fiscal year that ends June 30 and the other the coming fiscal year that gets under way July 1.
Perdue’s budget for fiscal year 2011 relies on 4 percent revenue growth and would bring spending back up to $18.2 billion.
"While many believe that may be optimistic, I do not," he said.
Perdue said he won’t be asking for any more furlough days in the coming fiscal year. That’s in part because the state work force is shrinking due to attrition and layoffs. An exact figure was not immediately available on Friday.
The one area of the budget that’s seeing a spending boost is mental health, which is under oversight from the U.S. Department of Justice. Perdue is proposing an increase of $70 million for this fiscal year and the next. Federal officials have recently questioned whether the state is doing enough to improve its state psychiatric hospitals.
Perdue also made good on his promise to provide more bond money for transportation projects. His budget proposal contains about $900 million in borrowing. Of that, $333 million is for road and other transportation projects statewide.
"These deep recession times don’t mean that you don’t have a forward eye and a vision for the future," Perdue said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.