As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, and a member of the House’s Ways and Means Committee, last week was a busy one for me. We gathered for four days of hearings at Gov. Nathan Deal’s office, where the budget was presented. We also listened as state agencies offered input about budget needs and then asked questions regarding which programs worked well or were under- or over-funded.
Since many reports, stories and articles already have given the highlights of the budget, I will use this column to explain the actual process. Budgeting is an important procedure because every legislator is dedicated to passing a responsible budget for the well-being of our state.
The governor submits his budget request, essentially explaining how he wants the state funded for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1, 2015. As legislators, it is our responsibility to authorize the money he wants to spend. In this way, we serve as a checks-and-balances system over the governor and his staff. We are required by the state constitution to have a balanced budget, but the governor does have line-item veto authority. This is another set of checks and balances to limit overspending and help ensure that special-interest projects do not consume the state. These procedures maintain our fiscal accountability so that we do not become another California or New York — two of the most expensive places to live, thanks to oppressive tax rates. Yet their state governments are nearly bankrupt. It’s also what gives Georgia the best bond rating attainable, which means we can issue cheap bonds because the bond writers are confident that the bonds will be paid back.
As a collective body, Georgia legislators recognize that the more money you have to spend, to invest and to give to charitable institutions, the better off our communities, state and country will be. I am committed to maintaining a minimalist budget and a fair and open budget process. I also believe we must whittle away our state income tax. With responsible spending and low tax rates, we can ensure Georgia will be a national leader, attracting new residents and businesses as our ports continue to grow, thus giving our industries access to the world.
As your state representative and as part of the House leadership team, I can honestly say that we all are committed to the betterment of our state. We believe that Georgia is the best place in the world to live and work. If you have any concerns as we continue the budget process or if there’s an issue you’d like to discuss, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.
Stephens can be reached at 404-656-5115 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. His address at the capitol is State Rep. Ron Stephens, 226 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334.