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Senate president pro tem predicted state's budget shortfall
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Eric Johnson, president pro tem of the Senate, talks about the financial crisis in state government.

The Republican leader of the state Senate predicted the state of Georgia’s sliding revenues could lead to a $2 billion budget shortfall.

State Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, president pro tem of the Senate, made his comments during a visit with The Times editorial board on Thursday.

"What I’ve been preparing people for is that the budget is going to reach deep into the state," Johnson said. "People are going to feel this pain."

He said when Republicans took over in 2003, they were facing a budget deficit and made significant cuts that have remained.

"We picked all the low hanging fruit," he said.

"There’s probably a little waste still out there, but we’re going to hit bone. Cutting $2 billion will hurt parks, prisons and mental hospitals."

While the governor has requested only a 2 percent cut from education, he feels that may not last.

"My prediction is that we’re not going to be able to find the savings he (Gov. Sonny Perdue) wants and we’re going to have to cut education more," Johnson said.

The senator said a special session of the General Assembly is unlikely in a political year.
"If you put the General Assembly back in session and ask them to cut $2 billion in an election year, there would be blood on the floor and it wouldn’t accomplish anything," he said, adding that the action would have a bearing on the election of Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

He predicted the governor would reverse his position on the homeowner tax relief grants, which would send $428 million to local homeowners across the state.

Johnson praised Perdue’s efforts to cut the budget.
"I am not comfortable that the legislature could do a better job than the governor now, and I don’t agree with everything he’s doing by any means," he said, adding that Perdue was consulting with the leadership of the legislature regularly.

He said cutting the 2010 budget would fall to the legislature during the session beginning in January.

Johnson, who holds the top position in the Senate, has announced that he would be exploring a bid for lieutenant governor in the likely event that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle runs for governor in 2010.

"I basically did that job for four years," Johnson said, referring to the decision to strip then-Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor of his power and giving most of that to Johnson. "I thought it was time to go home and retire or move up."

He said he has proven that he can work with the House and the governor in finding solutions to state problems and feels he can do that as lieutenant governor. Like Cagle, Johnson was elected to the Senate in 1994. Prior to assuming his current post, he served as minority leader.

Also mentioned as a possible Republican contender is state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth.

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