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Legislators heading to work again
Lawmakers prepare for a delayed session
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State legislators may not be taking a step into the House and Senate chambers again for more than a week, but most are still driving to the Capitol for the rest of this week and next week.

Because of concerns over ongoing ice hazards, legislators decided Wednesday to postpone the next gaveling in until Jan. 24.

But with newly assigned committee positions and annual budget hearings to attend, lawmakers are getting back to work today as they anticipate the rest of the delayed 40-day legislative session.

"I made it back to Gainesville last night before sundown, but I'm back in Atlanta tomorrow," Rep. Doug Collins said while working at home Thursday. "With budget hearings, we'll be in Atlanta all next week. Also with the formal budget released yesterday, I had meetings after session dealing with what Gov. (Nathan) Deal has laid out."

During the hearings, each state department will explain budgets to lawmakers, who will examine needs and cuts.

"This will be our first in-depth look as we begin to formulate the budget in helping to achieve the goals that Gov. Deal set out in the State of the State address," said Collins, one of Deal's floor leaders. "I also have that added responsibility of helping him get some policy, legislation and budget ideas through, and so far it's been interesting."

Deal said during Wednesday's State of the State address that he would cut vacant positions and slash state agencies' budgets but provide more money for education.

Though higher education will likely see a 6 percent cut, Deal plans to set aside "rainy day" money for K-12 students.

He also put a focus on transportation, the tri-state water wars and the impact of federal health care legislation but echoed his message from Monday's inaugural address of self-reliance.

"We've got a lot of work in front of us. I'm very pleased with the initial budget proposal by Gov. Deal," Rep. James Mills said Thursday. "It's one of the lowest bond packages that I've seen in my entire 19 years, which to me says he understands that people are looking for less spending and less government and yet still want the job to get done."

As part of the $563 million proposed bond package, Deal set aside $46 million for reservoir development.

"That's very important for Hall County, and I hope that our county commission will guard our reservoirs that the people of Hall County have invested in," Mills said. "We already have Glades Farm and Cedar Creek in the works, and these are critical tools. There are a lot of things we do extra, but water is a necessity, and I appreciate the foresight in encouraging local communities to prepare for the future."

Borrowing fewer dollars and ending teacher furloughs are tough charges but possible, Mills said.

"We're certainly going to strive toward that," he said. "It's going to take a concentrated effort, and I think teachers have done their fair share in helping to take the hit."

Sen. Butch Miller, who received five committee assignments Wednesday, is eager to get started for his first session. House committee assignments will be announced Tuesday.

"It can feel slow at first, which is frustrating," he said Wednesday while dashing to his first meeting. "I'm excited to hear what everyone has to say."

Miller referred to the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians, which held 11 fact-finding sessions across the state this summer to create a pro-growth and job-friendly tax policy.

The council released a 97-page report on Jan. 7 of its recommendations, which include moving more toward consumption taxes such as the grocery tax and sales tax. Lawmakers must agree or disagree with the council's entire proposal before moving forward.

"People want you to give a yes or no answer, which is pretty difficult when you're answering a couple of billion dollars question," Miller said Thursday. "We can't pick and choose what we want ... but the key is whether it's a broader, flatter and fairer tax. People want an answer on their particular interest, and right now we need to make sure it's good for business and job creation."

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