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Lawmakers approve amended 2009 state budget
Planning for 2010 expected to be a real challenge
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House and Senate conferees reached agreement on an amended version of the current year’s state budget, and the reduced spending plan is in now the hands of Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The $18.9 billion plan includes about $2 billion in cuts, but was aided by federal stimulus money for Medicaid and education.

The spending plan had to be trimmed as state revenues continue to plummet. Lawmakers were able to carve enough out of the budget to save a $428 million homeowner tax relief grant, which many counties already had subtracted from property tax bills that went out last year. The grants total about $200 to $300 in property tax relief per household.

"None of us are happy about all the cuts we’re having to do," said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, a vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "This is the best we can do for 2009. The real challenge is going to be the 2010 budget."

The next year’s budget, which goes into effect July 1, is likely to reflect deeper cuts.

"That’s the tough one," Rogers said.

The spending plan contains about $40,000 for more food safety inspectors sought after a nationwide salmonella outbreak was traced to products made at a South Georgia peanut plant.

Legislators also found cash to keep Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime labs open. And they restored some cash slashed from domestic violence shelters and for slots for the mentally disabled.

State employees have been hard hit by the state’s faltering finances. About 25,000 of the roughly 100,000 state employees are being furloughed — taking forced days off without pay — to help Georgia officials balance its books.

The budget counts on $477 million in extra Medicaid money through the federal stimulus bill. It also uses $145 million in federal stimulus dollars to help offset cuts to schools.

State Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said the budget was challenging.

"It still meets essential needs of our state, especially in these economic times," Hawkins said, adding that it was done without raising taxes.

But the Republican-dominated legislature concedes that it would have been more difficult without more than $600 million in federal funds approved last month by Congress.

Perdue and the legislature differed over some funding issues. Under Georgia law, the governor can use a line-item veto on budget expenses he chooses to eliminate.