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Work goes on, even outside of session

POSTED: January 31, 2013 7:41 p.m.

The Georgia General Assembly was in recess last week for the 2013 legislative session; however, members of the legislature were still in full swing moving forward with the budgetary process.


Last Monday, we observed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and the remainder of our week was spent in budget hearings. I was able to participate in my first joint House and Senate budget hearings as a state legislator. Many times I was involved on the other side of the podium, presenting the budget and focusing on specific agency priorities. Now, my focus is on our district and the state of Georgia.


On the legislative side, we have to find the balance between funding agency priorities across the state with the limited number of taxpayer dollars available to fund the necessary programs and services.


Just as all families across our state have to create a family budget, prioritize spending, pay our bills, and plan for the future, the state of Georgia does the same. Since we are constitutionally required to have a balanced budget in Georgia, we (unlike Washington) do not have a blank check.  The state of Georgia does not spend more than it receives in revenue. The checkbook for our state is balanced, just as the checkbook is for all individuals, families and businesses.


Last week, legislators heard testimony from Gov. Deal and all agency heads as to what their priorities are for each agency. After the budget hearings, legislators have to make tough decisions on what should be funded through an in-depth analysis and discussion of the state budget.  The proposed budgets for each agency include a 3 percent reduction, with the exception of K-12 public education. As good stewards of taxpayer money, it is our responsibility to work together as your state representatives and senators to ensure that taxpayer dollars fund the essential priorities, while continuing to maintain the necessary services to the citizens of our state.


Legislators have input into the budgetary process and can make recommendations and propose changes to the budget to reflect the needs and priorities of each of our districts.  We will spend the remainder of the legislative session working together to pass a balanced budget for our state and we look forward to your input.


Several items were highlighted by Gov. Deal and the head of each agency during the joint budget appropriation hearings this week. There was significant testimony on the need to expand the Savannah Harbor and to deepen the channel. I fully support our governor’s recommendations in this endeavor. The requested bond package for this project includes an additional $50 million, and the project will be funded by both state and federal funds. The positive economic impact from this project will be shown both within our district and across our state.


Given my background, the priorities mentioned by Gov. Deal in regard to public safety were of particular interest and also importance. Some of the proposals made by our governor in his budget recommendations included: continuing the reform of our criminal justice system by adopting juvenile reforms to reduce expenses from non-violent youthful offenders, the funding of community based, non-confinement correctional methods, changing the boating under the influence law to comply with similar standards as with vehicles, and analyzing age and educational requirements for boat operators.


These are just some of the items that were discussed and based on the testimony we heard from the governor and department heads regarding our state budgets, we are hopeful that brighter days are ahead.  I will continue to keep you updated throughout the budgetary process.


Effingham Day at the Capitol was held Jan. 28-29 and Savannah Day was Thursday. There were groups at the Capitol from cities in our area, such as Garden City, Pooler, Port Wentworth and Savannah.


I will keep you apprised of important legislation that affects your families, your freedoms, and your pocketbooks. Working with and alongside the other members of both the House and Senate, your best interests will always remain my first priority.


Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance to you or your family. Please feel welcome to write to me at 501 Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg., Atlanta, GA 30334, email me at bill.hitchens@house.ga.gov, or call my office at (404) 656-0177 or (404) 656-0178.

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