Nothing off table in 2011 GA budget cuts -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Nothing off table in 2011 GA budget cuts

By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –  The state budget crisis deepens. Nothing is off the table as state lawmakers try to cut another billion dollars from next year's budget.

Tuesday, lawmakers even discussed reducing the 180-day school year. They're considering everything from raising taxes on cigarettes to cutting programs. Georgia revenues have continued to decline over the last 14 months. The state's lost four billion dollars over the last two years, leaving lawmakers with some tough decisions when it comes to balancing the state's budget.

The Department of Natural Resources law enforcement division has taken nine furlough days this fiscal year and like many state employees they're watching this week's budget discussions closely.

"All of us are concerned with our jobs as far as we don't know what's going to transpire," said Captain Jeff Swift, DNR Law Enforcement.

Darton College President Dr. Peter Sireno and Chief Financial Officer Ronnie Henry are in Atlanta for the Chancellor's budget presentation. They expect cuts of 385 million dollars. Lawmakers admit tax increases may be on the way.

"For republicans to even consider raising taxes, tells everyone how dire the budget situation is," said Rep. Ed Rynders, (R)-District 152.

Representative Ed Rynders a member of the appropriations committee was in hearings and says lawmakers are considering tough choices like a dollar tax on cigarettes that will raise 354 million a year and a 1.6 percent hospital bed tax.

"We're looking at three choices, raising taxes, terminating workers, and eliminating emerging programs and agencies, probably done in a combination of the three," said Rynders.

At the Department of Natural Resources, more cuts could affect how they serve taxpayers.

"We're at the lowest level of staffing that we've been, and certainly the demands haven't decreased especially in the public safety arena," said Swift.

Lawmakers call the budget crisis a no win situation, saying they're past the point of eliminating waste, and this round of cuts will likely affect services and people's livelihoods.

The legislature may allow several sales tax exemptions to expire and is considering increasing certain state fees that haven't been increased in years. Democrats have proposed a one-percent income tax increase for anyone who makes more than $400,000 a year.

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