Georgia’s economy is slowly recovering from the recession, but tepid tax collections have pared back Republican Gov. Nathan Deal’s agenda. Deal told lawmakers Tuesday that he will not have as expansive an agenda because of the state’s fiscal situation. While the General Assembly was in recess, the House and Senate appropriation committees met jointly this week to start reviewing Deal’s $40.8 billion spending plan. Deal’s basic budget problem is that Georgia has taken in less tax money than expected. As a result, Deal earlier ordered state agencies to make mid-year budget cuts. On Tuesday, Deal asked committee members and other lawmakers to support a plan to authorize the Board of Community Health to levy a tax on hospitals that is set to expire this year. The tax raises roughly $230 million annually and is used as state matching money to secure another $400 million-plus of federal support for the Medicaid program. Those funds then flow back to hospitals in the form of a higher payment rate for treating Medicaid patients. The state’s fiscal economist, Kenneth Heaghney, told lawmakers Georgia is experiencing growth in important sectors such as information technology, professional and business services, and manufacturing. But he said increasing federal taxes, sluggish global growth and uncertainty over federal fiscal policy could cause economic problems.
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The state Department of Agriculture has proposed ending a program meant to help farmers navigate the complicated federal process of getting visas for foreign laborers. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black hired two liaisons to assist farmers after Georgia passed a stringent law targeting including immigrants, including foreign workers who harvest crops. Black eliminated the program while cutting the department’s budget.
Department of Human Services Commissioner Clyde Reese III told lawmakers that Georgia should hire more child and adult protection workers when the economy improves. Reese said caseworker staffing in the child protection agency is at a floor, meaning it should not go lower.
A longtime producer at Georgia Public Broadcasting resigned following the hiring of former Republican state Sen. Chip Rogers. Ashlie Wilson Pendley, who has been employed with the network for 15 years, quit her job in protest after it was revealed that Rogers will be paid $150,000 annually — nearly three times her salary. Rogers abruptly resigned from the state Senate in December as his faction lost control of the chamber’s leadership.
“We do not have as elaborate an agenda this year as we have had in previous years,” said Gov. Nathan Deal on his budget plans.
The House and Senate will resume their floor sessions next week. House Speaker David Ralston earlier said he would likely unveil new legislation capping lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and requiring more people to register as lobbyists.