BALFOUR: Budget, jobs will be focus of legislature

Legislators are taking their first look at the governor's budget proposals and the difficult choices ahead. Make no mistake; the budget is the paramount challenge for us this session. But we are ready to make the tough choices that will lead to Georgia's economic recovery.

The governor has proposed a $15.5 billion spending plan in state general funds for the rest of Fiscal Year 2010, which ends June 30. The Legislature will be looking for a $1.4 billion reduction from the original FY10 budget, making the dangerous assumption of flat revenues through the end of June. The reality is we should be looking for $2 billion in reductions to end this cycle of one budget crisis after another. Georgia has grown by more than half a million people since then, while our budget has shrunk by almost $4 billion.

Right now, the FY11 budget stands at $16.8 billion. Just like families across Georgia, we must operate the state on significantly less than in years past. The harsh reality is that we're going to have to make additional cuts as revenues continue to decline, which means core areas of government will have to shoulder some of the burden.

While the budget is the top challenge, our top priority must be job creation and economic growth for Georgia. The national economy is beginning to show signs of stabilization, but we won't begin to feel these effects in Georgia for a while. Thousands of Georgians are still looking for work amid one of the most severe recessions our state has seen. Permanent job creation is the only catalyst for Georgia's economic recovery.

We must continue our conservative leadership of less spending, lower taxes, providing business growth incentives and finding government efficiencies to spur economic development. Conservative leadership in Georgia has a proven record of reducing inefficiencies while increasing investments in those limited areas where state government has a fiscal responsibility -- particularly education.

Fiscal Year 2004 was the first budget created by Gov. Perdue. It contained $8.59 billion for education spending. The FY 10 budget contains $11.47 billion for education spending. This is a 34 percent increase in education spending. While all areas of government have been drastically affected by budget reductions, the Georgia Legislature is committed to making education a top priority.

Georgia is one of the lowest taxed states in the nation and has the lowest debt per capita. Our low corporate income tax rate also makes Georgia very attractive to companies, which will bring much-needed jobs. Georgia is one of only seven states to earn a Triple-A Bond rating. Georgia is perhaps one of the best states in the nation poised for a great economic recovery.

As this budget process continues, I will continue to work with my colleagues in finding conservative solutions to growing our economy and reducing our state budget. We must continue to evaluate the role of government in our daily lives and how best government can get out of the way to let the people of Georgia grow and prosper.

Ronald Reagan once said, "Government programs exist at the sufferance of the American taxpayer and are paid for with money earned by working men and women. Any program that represents a waste of their money -- a theft from their pocketbooks -- must have that waste eliminated or the program must go."

Sen. Don Balfour serves as Chairman of the Rules Committee. He represents the 9th Senate District, which includes a portion of Gwinnett County. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-0095 or by e-mail at don.balfour@senate.ga.gov.