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State House passes midyear budget
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State Rep. Carl Rogers, a vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, may finally get to work on something else this weekend.

After weeks of carving, the state House approved a midyear budget that slashes $1.2 billion in spending and includes more unpaid furlough days for state employees. And for the first month of the session, Rogers said he spent “199.9 percent” of his time trying to lower state departments’ spending to the level of sagging state revenues.

And this weekend, he hopes to get moving on some of his own legislation that, until now, he hasn’t had time for.

“Doing the midyear budget’s been very difficult,” Rogers said. “It’s hard enough to do it when there’s money, but when there’s shortfalls, it’s very hard; it’s very stressful.”

The House voted 122-44 on Thursday to adopt the state’s $17.4 billion spending plan. The budget now moves to the state Senate, and House members will soon begin hearings on the fiscal year 2011 budget.

Most state agencies are facing cuts of about 8 percent as the state wrestles with tax collections that have tumbled for 14 consecutive months.

One of the only spending increases is for mental hospitals, which are under fire from the U.S. Department of Justice.

State employees and teachers are facing three more unpaid furlough days before June 30 — the end of the fiscal year.

“Furloughs are very difficult,” Rogers said. “It’s better than laying off people, but still, people don’t get paid for a furlough day, so teacher’s got to take them — we’ve all got to take them — and that’s just the way it is right now.”

And while it’s what lawmakers felt like they had to do to get through the rest of this budget year, state Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said furloughs are not a long-term option.

“I mean, that’s not something you continue to do year after year to fix a budget,” said Collins, the secretary of the House Appropriations Committee.

Some Democrats voted against the amended budget, arguing it shortchanges education. But Collins said the House version of the amended budget does have some victories for the state system, including restored funding for state Tuition Equalization grants that doesn’t require using state lottery funds.

“I think we did what we could do at this point,” Collins said. “... We’re halfway through the year ... so there’s not a lot you do in the ’10. But we did feel like we put back in what needed to be put back in. Do we recognize that we’re still in a hole as far as our situation, as far as economic recovery? Yes, but we felt like we did the best we could with the ’10 at this point.”

And as the Senate takes on the bill next week, House members are looking to the fiscal year 2011 budget with low hopes. State revenue numbers continue to be down; revenues from January were 8.9 percent below the year before, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Rogers said House members will wait at least a week to begin working on a plan for the upcoming fiscal year — which begins in July — to see if there are any changes in the state’s revenue stream. But no one expects February to be much better.

“The ’11 budget is going to be a challenge,” Collins said. “And there’s going to be hurt in there.”

State Rep. James Mills, R- Chestnut Mountain, did not return calls seeking comment for this report.

The Associated press contributed to this report.

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