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State budget cuts trickle down to local colleges
Lanier Tech dental hygiene student Karen Boles, right, assists instructor Ruth Thompson as she works with patient Astrit Ritter. Among other cuts throughout the school, the dental hygiene program at Lanier Tech may have to forego new computers because of budget cuts. - photo by Tom Reed

The continued slide in state revenues is evidence that economic woes have hit home in Georgia’s budget.The state ended the fiscal year in June with a shortfall of about $600 million, forcing Gov. Sonny Perdue to dip into Georgia’s $1.5 billion reserve fund to find the cash. But Perdue said unless revenues pick up, spending cuts are likely on the horizon.

"There will be some tough choices," Perdue said. The Republican governor already has asked state agencies to submit budget-saving plans for the current fiscal year that began July 1.

For Mike Moye, president of Lanier Technical College, budget cutting is nothing new. Moye, the longest serving of the current technical college presidents, had been in state government for three decades and has weathered a few fiscal storms.

"This too shall pass," Moye said.

Moye has been asked to identify 3 percent in potential cuts. While the term potential is used as a preface, Moye concedes that this week’s revenue announcement makes them feel a bit closer to reality.

In the past few days, the college president learned that the Technical College System of Georgia scrubbed plans for presentations on capital projects.

Moye was prepared to present a proposal for a 90,000-square-foot allied health and public safety building for the college’s Oakwood campus. The $18 million project will have to go back on the shelf for better times.

State money managers reported on Monday that tax collections are down 1.1 percent for the 2008 fiscal year. That’s a drop of about $190 million from last year. In June alone revenues plunged 9.4 percent from the same month a year ago. The big loser was sales tax collections, which dropped 17 percent in June and 2 percent for the year. Mirroring national trends, Georgians appear to be responding to the bleak economic picture by spending less. Perdue said Wednesday he wasn’t surprised the state ended the year with a deficit. But he said that the size of it was larger than he’d expected as the economy has reeled from soaring gas prices and a home lending crisis. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle echoed Perdue’s message of fiscal discipline. "Now is the time to drive down cost and focus our efforts to do more with less," said Cagle, a Republican.

Moye said the college has been trimming where possible. Currently, 65 percent of the instruction at the college is done by adjunct faculty, part-time instructors who teach only a course or two.

But what worries Moye is the availability of faculty for two new buildings on the college’s campuses in Cumming and Dawsonville. The two construction projects are due to be completed in the next fiscal year.

At Gainesville State College, the belt tightening is also under way.

"When we received the 2008-09 budget earlier this year, we anticipated a possible budget reduction and at the chancellor’s instructions, we proactively set aside 2 to 3 percent," said Martha Nesbitt, president of Gainesville State College. "We will also continue to look at reducing operations cost throughout the year."

A college spokeswoman said she believes the budget situation will not affect the planned academic building on the Oakwood campus. The state allocated $2.4 million for the planning and design of the building in the current state budget.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.