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State budget deficit nears $3 billion; many parks, historic sites might close
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A Hall County lawmaker who serves on the House Appropriations Committee said budget writers are preparing for an additional $618 million in state budget cuts.

Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said last week’s announcement of a 14.3 percent drop in state revenues was worse than expected.

"The House Budget Office is readjusting the numbers and is trying to figure out what the numbers are going to between now and June 30," Rogers said. "We’re going to press it on down, which will make the deficit about $2.8 billion."

Rogers, a vice chairman of the appropriations panel, said the additional cuts could close some state facilities. He said 65 state parks and historic sites are proposed to be shuttered.

"A lot of the management folks are going to see some mandatory cuts," Rogers said. "A lot of the top senior management and commissioners are making an excessive amount of money, and they haven’t volunteered to take a 30, 40 or 50 percent pay cut."

Roger Tutterow, a Mercer University economist, said while it isn’t over, we may have come through the worst of the downturn.

"The fourth quarter of ’08 and the first quarter of ’09 will be the rough quarters, in terms of employment and output for the aggregate of the economy," Tutterow said. "I think the economy remains in recession through the first half of 2009 and, at best, has some sluggish growth during the summer months."

Tutterow said in terms of year-over-year comparisons, the state should see some improvement soon.

"For the first seven months of FY ’09, we’re down more than anyone had hoped at the state level. We also need to recognize that as we get into the final months of FY ’09, the year-over-year comparisons will not be as bad, because we started seeing revenues drop off beginning in the spring of last year," he said.

The General Assembly reconvenes in Atlanta today for the first of several three-day-a-week sessions. The leadership of the House and Senate hope to have an amended budget for the current year and a budget for fiscal year 2010 passed by March 25, the 35th legislative day.

Lawmakers are saving five days of the 40-day session to reconvene on June 22 for the remaining days, if needed, to make any corrections to the budget.

Rogers said he hopes the U.S. government includes money that can be used for education and Medicaid in the proposed federal stimulus package.

"We just don’t know how long it will take for those funds to trickle down," he said.

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