published Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Georgia agencies prepare for more state budget cuts

Lorena Quintero, 19, foreground, and Macy Mullins, 20, take notes during a lab experiment. Georgia colleges are expected to take some heavy cuts under Gov. Nathan Deal's budget plan.
Lorena Quintero, 19, foreground, and Macy Mullins, 20, take notes during a lab experiment. Georgia colleges are expected to take some heavy cuts under Gov. Nathan Deal's budget plan.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal is asking state agencies to find another $553 million in reductions through June 2014.

About half of that would come from higher education and from public health — $108 million from the University System of Georgia and $170 million from the Department of Community Health — while most k-12 school funding is exempt, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Agencies still are weighing their responses to the order, issued last week, but some will consider layoffs, officials said.

The order marks the fifth consecutive year that the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has told department heads to come up with additional reductions. This year’s requested cuts are larger than last year’s.

“It’s going to be tough because all they have done is cut, cut, cut,” Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, said of the agencies.

State officials last week were sent instructions for preparing their spending plans for the rest of fiscal 2013, which ends June 30, and for fiscal 2014. Those plans must be submitted to the governor by early September. He then will make recommendations to the General Assembly for lawmakers to consider when they return in January for the 2013 session.

Georgia’s universities and colleges will be asked to protect programs that directly affect the system’s more than 300,000 students, said John Brown, vice chancellor for fiscal affairs.

“Reductions should first come from central and nonacademic functions,” he said.

Officials with the Department of Community Health say they’re exploring options but don’t yet know how they will come up with about $170 million in spending cuts over the next two years. The agency announced in June it planned to ask the General Assembly for $300 million to make up a shortfall this year.

John Ellis, assistant commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, told his board this week that everything, including staff cuts, is on the table in his agency.

“I think this is the new status quo,” said Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, an Atlanta think tank.

“Every year there will be more budget cuts,” he said. “We have kind of hit bottom, but we keep cutting a little [more] each year.”

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