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State budget hearings will begin today
Representatives: Government's role in Georgians lives will shrink
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Today, state lawmakers will begin shaping a state spending plan that matches projections for the state’s shrinking revenues.

The members of the state House of Representatives and the state Senate appropriations committees will come together at 1 p.m. today to hold hearings on Georgia’s budget.

The three days of joint hearings will begin with the testimony of Gov. Sonny Perdue, who on Friday released a proposal for an amended spending plan for the current fiscal year and another for fiscal year 2011, which begins in July.

Perdue’s plan adds three more furlough days for educators and other state employees this fiscal year and cuts whole programs, including a $12 million initiative to help local school systems improve their teaching programs as well as the $200,000 Vidalia Onion Research Project.

Legislators’ first task will be to cut more from the current year’s spending plan. Perdue’s proposal cuts $1.2 billion more from the $18.6 billion spending plan for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. About $900 million in cuts for the current fiscal year already have been implemented as Perdue in July ordered state agencies to tighten their belts.

Three members of Hall County’s legislative delegation will take part in this week’s joint hearings. State Reps. Carl Rogers and Doug Collins, both Republicans from Gainesville, and James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, are all members of the House appropriations committee. Rogers is a vice chairman of the committee, and Collins is secretary.

Although Rogers and Collins said they have yet to take an in-depth look at Perdue’s proposal, Rogers said he is taking the budget a little more seriously this year.

"I have visited three state agencies on-site — I’ve never done that," Rogers said. "And I wanted to see — I’ve listened to them for the last 10 years talk about numbers — but I’ve never been on-site. ... In good times, we’re rushing to do it, but in times we’re in right now, it helps to see what they’re doing and what personnel, what people are there."

And as the House and Senate appropriations committees sit down this week, Collins said there still are questions to be answered on how the state will deal with spending cuts.

"It’s been sort of across-the-board kind of cutting ... especially in the ’10 budget — which is the amended budget — looking to, how do we get to the end of this year?" Collins said. "Are we making cuts where we need to make cuts? Are there other areas where we could find some money to be cut — maybe either through new proposals or delaying some things that could help us meet this budget?" Collins said.

And as lawmakers begin shaping the 2011 budget, they will have to think even harder about the role that state government must play in Georgians’ lives. It will be a much smaller role, Rogers said.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources already is looking to farm out some of the state-operated golf courses to private entities or local governments, and the governor’s proposed budget would consolidate regional offices of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation into the Gainesville office on Green Street — a plan that would save the state more than $155,000 in the next 18 months, according to state budget documents.

"There will be more (cuts) in 2011," Rogers said. "You’ll see shutdown of offices that incur ... rents and just trying to eliminate costs and probably eliminating personnel. You’ll see — especially in 2011 — you’ll see a large downsize of state government and consolidation."

With state revenues in a lurch, lawmakers are considering "zero-based" budgeting that will start departments off with a budget of $0 and add expenses one by one.

"We’re going to rebuild, and make sure there’s nothing that’s continuing for the sake of continuing," Collins said.

Mills, of Chestnut Mountain, did not return a call from The Times seeking comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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