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Midyear budget headed to governor's desk

ATLANTA - The General Assembly gave final passage Wednesday to Gov. Sonny Perdue's 2006 midyear budget request in two lopsided votes.

The House voted 165-2 to adopt a compromise reached during several weeks of conference committee negotiations. The Senate followed suit a short time later in a unanimous vote.

The $17.8 billion midyear budget adds $444 million to the 2006 spending plan approved by lawmakers last spring to help carry state government through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

The biggest single chunk of that new money - almost $145 million - represents the annual midyear adjustment for enrollment growth in Georgia public schools.

Other significant additions include $5 million to help school systems cover the rising costs of diesel fuel used by buses, $4 million to help low-income Georgians cope with higher heating bills, $2 million in HOPE Scholarships for spouses of deceased Georgia Reservists and National Guard members who were sent to Iraq and $250,000 to help counties across the state develop security plans for their courthouses.

But the main reason so many Democrats joined majority Republicans in supporting the midyear budget was an agreement by the two parties to add $7.6 million to a Medicaid program for children with severe disabilities whose parents have incomes too high to qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage or Georgia's PeachCare for Kids.

The money will go to families who were cut off from the Katie Beckett program last fall when the state began enforcing stricter eligibility requirements, and to families who are new to the program but would have qualified under the old rules.

Also on Wednesday, House members approved an $18.7 billion 2007 budget submitted by the governor in

January.

Unlike the midyear budget, it has a long way to go before gaining final approval.

The 2007 spending plan, for the fiscal year starting July 1, moves next to the Senate.