State budget revisions show cuts to child welfare, GBI positions

Hospitals are asking state lawmakers to clarify how much information they need to disclose under a new transparency law that regulates nonprofit facilities. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

State lawmakers still plan to convene later this month for budget hearings. They just won’t hear from the state agency heads who have suggested where to find the governor’s mandated spending cuts, including through possible job cuts.

The presence of department heads became a flash point in the ongoing process to shave 4% off the state budget this year and 6% next year after Gov. Brian Kemp unexpectedly ordered those cuts in early August amid forecasts that the economy could possibly slow.

Shortly after, House Speaker David Ralston announced that budget writers would begin meeting several months earlier than usual to jumpstart what now promises to be a thorny budget process. The budget process usually kicks off each January at the beginning of the legislative session.

The called meetings appeared to cause friction between the two branches of government, with Kemp directing agency heads to skip the hearings, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His counsel then also fired off a sternly worded memo instructing agency leaders to send their budget submissions to him – and not lawmakers – first. That tension appears to have eased somewhat.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget publicly posted a document online late Wednesday that summarizes where state agencies plan to find the savings. The document was released the same day the state announced last month’s revenue were down 2.8%, or $50.3 million, compared to last August. Revenues for the new fiscal year are up just 0.2%.

Most of the proposed reductions will be found through personnel cuts or eliminated vacant positions.

Positions going unfilled or eliminated in the current budget include 12 full-time consumer protection workers in the Department of Agriculture, 16 regional investigators with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and 21 child welfare workers in the Department of Human Services. The state expects to save $4.3 million by not paying 49 people to do those jobs as provided for in the state budget the governor signed in May.

Some details had started to surface as department boards met to discuss their budget proposals. Some agencies, such as the Department of Public Health, have kept a tight lid on what they have offered up for the chopping block.

The document that the governor’s budget office released this week provides a mostly broad overview of what agency leaders have proposed sacrificing to shrink the budget.

“Some proposals lack specifics. That’s normal. They’re not final. We’re early in the process,” Candice Broce, the governor’s communications director, said on Twitter, noting that the budget cuts are still subject to the governor’s review and change.

Individual agency plans provide some additional information.

For example, nearly 40 jobs would be cut or consolidated at several research programs as part of about $26 million in budget reductions for the University System of Georgia over the next two years, according to plans the programs sent to the university system recently.

Most of those jobs are in agricultural programs run by the University of Georgia like the cooperative extension service and experimental stations. Another 40 or so vacant positions would remain unfilled.

Once Kemp reshapes the current budget and proposes a new spending plan for next year, lawmakers will then have their say.

But lawmakers don’t plan to sit idly by in the meantime. They plan to move forward with the hearings set for Sept. 26 and 27. State Rep. Terry England and state Sen. Jack Hill, who chair the appropriations committee for their respective chambers will determine the specific agenda, said Kaleb McMichen, who is Ralston’s communications director.

“We anticipate a high-level discussion of economic data and trends to begin educating members of what’s ahead,” McMichen said Thursday.

That may be enough for now for lawmakers anxious to learn more about the proposed cuts.

Beau Evans and John McCosh contributed to this report.

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