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Ga. revenues continue to plunge

ATLANTA -- Georgia's tax collections tumbled for the 15th straight month, setting the stage for yet more deep cuts to the state's already battered budget.

State money managers reported on Monday that revenues slumped 10 percent from the same month the year before. For the fiscal year that ends June 30, tax collections are lagging 12.7 percent behind the year before, a drop of $1.3 billion.

Legislators -- who spent two weeks in budget hearings trying to trim every last bit of fat from state spending -- have been anxiously awaiting the new revenue report, hoping the numbers might provide a glimmer of hope. Instead, nearly every major category of tax collections declined.

''There's just no way to put a pretty face on it,'' Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Sales tax collections were off by 12 percent. Corporate income taxes dropped 26 percent and personal income taxes declined 18 percent. One bright spot: Income tax collections were up slightly from February 2009. But a surge in tax refunds going out the door knocked that small gain back into the red, officials said.

For Republican leaders, the grim fiscal landscape provides a test of their conservative resolve not to boost taxes.

Lawmakers are weighing a host of unpopular cuts that could mean higher tuition at Georgia's public colleges, less money for elementary and secondary classrooms and longer waits for those seeking public assistance, like food stamps.

Layoffs of state employees are a certainty, legislative leaders said. And it's also likely whole programs will be eliminated, although it's not yet clear which ones.