POLITICS: Majority leader Keen warns of budget woes

Camie Young

Camie Young

With revenues still sinking, the biggest challenge of the 2010 legislative session will undoubtedly be how to balance the state's budget, House Majority Leader Jerry Keen said Wednesday.

"There's no playbook," Keen said of the dire financial situation plaguing the state, during a speech to members of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

Keen said the report that state revenues dropped by another 16 percent in November, when officials had hoped the state had hit bottom, caught people by surprise.

But across-the-board cuts will no longer be acceptable, he said, adding that some services would likely be eliminated.

The state's budget has been cut to about $15.5 billion from $21 billion just three years ago, he said.

While he said legislators would not stand for tax increases at this time, he added that he believes a priority should be helping small business get access to capital and credit.

"That's where this economy will grow and expand," he said.

Because of financial woes, the likelihood of a statewide sales tax on transportation has waned, he said, so House leaders are shifting their support to a Senate-led effort to impose regional sales taxes to tackle congestion. After years of battling between the two ideas, Keen said the regional tax proposal may move forward.

For statewide revenues, he is in favor of earmarking all state revenue growth beyond a certain percentage for statewide transportation projects.

At Wednesday's luncheon, Chamber President Jim Maran called on legislators to consider before each vote whether the matter will help add or retain jobs.

He released the group's legislative action agenda, which again marks transportation funding as a top priority.

The agenda also calls for action on the state's water woes. Keen said he was encouraged by the meeting between Gov. Sonny Perdue and governors of Alabama and Florida this week. He said he expected a resolution to be passed on the issue in the upcoming session.

The Chamber also listed support for the county school system and local colleges, as well as funding for a statewide trauma care network, goals that have been stated in the past.

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com.