Day 35: Budget Balancing Act
by Angela Palm on 4/13/2010

The House Appropriations Committee passed out the FY 2011 budget today on a vote of 61-8.  It is expected to be voted on by the full House tomorrow.  For those who lost local ad valorem taxes due to the Forest Land Protection Act, they did include $10.6 million to reimburse counties, cities, and school boards for the FY 2010 loss.  

This budget still has a few flies in the ointment -- it is based on the passage of several bills that are still going back and forth between the chambers.

  • $229 million is listed as revenue from a hospital provider payment.  This will depend on passage of HB 307, the bill referred to as the bed tax, sick tax, and other names.  This one has been largely disliked by legislators, but there's been a "Hold your nose and vote for it" attitude by most.  It not only brings in state funds but also helps draw down an estimated $500 million in federal funds. Nobody can find another piggy bank that will do that.  The Senate and House passed different versions, however, and now must come to agreement.  That may take the rest of the session, but the terminology used may help -- it's referred to as a "payment" which avoids the argument whether this is a fee or tax. It also can't hurt that the budget lists the $131 million paid by nursing home providers.
  • Not specifically listed as a revenue source is $288 million the Governor recommended finding by selling loans currently held by the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority.  HB 244 is being used to do that, and it passed the Senate today 30-20. Now it goes back to the House for their agreement. For those who like details, HB 244 started off last year as a bill to change the name of the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.  It was handy that it kept the same acronym -- GEFA -- so nobody had to learn a new one.  GEFA made low interest loans to cities and counties to upgrade water and sewer facilities.  They currently hold over $600 million of loans.  In his efforts to find money for the state, Gov. Perdue recommended selling these loans for $288 million. 
  • Fee revenue of approximately $90 million is also included.  These fees are dependent on the passage of HB 1055.  A substitute version of this bill was voted out of Senate Finance yesterday.  Assuming it passes the Senate, it will have to go back to the House for agreement. 

You don't suppose they keep all this bouncing around till Day 40 on purpose, do you?

Education Committees Busy

House Education

The House Education Committee met today and gave their approval to five bills and sent one to subcommittee.

  • SB 387 requires the Georgia Student Finance Commission to provide web-based resources for grades 6-12.  Amazingly does just that.
  • SB 427 authorizes a foundation that could accept donations for the state schools.
  • SB 239, like HB 1031 already passed by the committee, tries to ensure parents moving to a new school district get their children registered for school in a timely manner.  Otherwise there are CONSEQUENCES. This version does not make school officials subject to criminal charges for failing to report a truant.
  • SB 457 authorizes a different method of a cluster charter petition moving forward to the local board for approval.  In 2005, charter law was amended to allow the creation of cluster charters.  To date there are none.  A cluster charter would be conversions and therefore subject to the requirement that a majority of the faculty and parents agree to petition the board for charter status.  Since several schools are involved, this could be problematic.  The original version of this bill would have allowed the board to call a referendum for voters to decide whether the cluster should petition to be a charter.  Attendance lines do not necessarily match voting district lines, however, and it would have to be precleared by the Justice Department.  Sen. Weber amended it to call for approval by a 60% combined  vote of parents and teachers within the cluster.  The charter petition would still require local board approval.
  • SR 153 is a constitutional amendment to authorize the creation of education improvement districts.  Under the bill, local legislation would create an administrative body with taxing authority to fund facilities and land purchases for one or more schools.  This was tabled in the House last year.  As a constitutional amendment it requires a 2/3 vote to pass.

These bills go to the Rules Committee.  SB 521, changing the funding for dual enrollment, was assigned to Rep. Tom Dickson's subcommittee.  Since the funding was changed two years ago to allow districts only an administrative fee of $161 per student in a dual enrollment program, participation has dropped about 67%.  This bill addresses only students who receive all their instruction on their same school campus, not those who go to the technical college or other facility for instruction.  There were 1,411 this year.  The concept of dual enrollment is often discussed but the details rarely are, and this left committee members with many questions.  Thus, the assignment to a subcommittee.

Senate Education

The Senate Education Committee passed four bills on to Senate Rules:

  • HB 493 amends the statute relating to the Georgia Youth Conservation Corps to add an additional purpose.
  • HB 1103 authorizes the Professional Standards Commission to issue "clearance certificates" to verify certain educators have completed fingerprint and criminal background check requirements.
  • HB 1307 would temporarily suspend the professional learning requirements for recertification.  
  • HB 400, the BRIDGE bill, showed up again.  It was amended today to phase in the industry certification programs over five years.  This bill has been amended greatly since its beginning in 2009.  Local participation is voluntary.


Wednesday, April 14

The General Assembly will be in session for Day 36.

House Ways and Means Committee will meet at 9 AM in 506 CLOB.  SB 346, revising the assessment and appeals process for property taxes, is the only item on the agenda.

Setzler Subcommittee of House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee will meet 2-4 PM in 403 CAP to hear SB 308 which increases the number of places weapons (handguns and knives with a blade of 5 inches or more) can be carried.

Senate Finance Committee will meet at 4 PM in 310 CLOB.  There is no agenda posted.  HB 480, changing the sales tax and ad valorem tax on motor vehicles to a title fee, is in this committee.