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January 22, 2013

Governor scales back agenda

ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday that his legislative agenda will be pared back because a still-weak economy is limiting how much Georgia can spend, a problem likely to linger for several years.

The Republican has proposed a $40.8 billion spending plan for the financial year starting in July, along with amending the current budget to account for less-than-anticipated tax collections and growing health care costs. Since the recovery from the Great Recession has been weak, state leaders face hard constraints on what they can spend.

"We do not have as elaborate an agenda this year as we have had in previous years," Deal told a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriation committees.

Lawmakers, who can change or reject Deal's budget plans, started their own reviews Tuesday of departments and agencies. Deal has ruled out raising taxes to deal with budget shortfalls.

Deal's primary budget problem is that Georgia is taking in less money than anticipated. While the current budget was pegged on state revenues growing 5.2 percent, those collections stood at 4.9 percent in December on a year-to-date basis.

Deal earlier instructed most agencies and departments to trim their budget to account for the shortfall. At the same time, Georgia has been forced to pay more than expected for Medicaid, a health insurance program for low-income residents, as more people join the program.

With budgets spread so thin, politicians have few resources for major new projects.

In his remarks, Deal asked lawmakers to approve roughly $13 million to restore 10 days of instruction that were eliminated from a pre-kindergarten education program in earlier rounds of budget cuts. The governor also proposed a modest 3 percent increase for recipients of the lottery funded HOPE scholarship. He requested $50 million to nearly complete the state's promised contribution toward a project to deepen the Port of Savannah.

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