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Budget must be top state priority
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Forsyth County News
The 2009 session of the Georgia Gen-eral Assembly convenes Monday. In past years, the opening of the annual legislative session has been met with more than a few good-humored remarks about “hiding the women and children” while lawmakers from around the state are gathered in Atlanta.

There’s not a lot of joking this year. There is too much serious business to be done.

If Georgia is to weather the current economic storm, its elected leadership must craft in the next few weeks a budget that allows the state to continue to provide, and in some cases expand, essential services, without placing a tax burden on the citizenry which it is  poorly equipped to handle in the current financial climate.

That won’t be easy to do, and it won’t be done at all if legislators aren’t totally focused from day one on budget preparation and debate.

Too often in the past state lawmakers have waited until the 11th hour to adopt a spending plan, frequently discovering after the fact that by doing so they have approved a less-than-ideal spending plan. We need better this year.

Lawmakers have tough decisions to make.

Where does the money come from to improve transportation so that traffic doesn’t strangle the metro area? What spending will most benefit education, so that Georgia can one day cease to be a bottomfeeder? What can the state do to stimulate the creation of jobs? How to finance medical care for those in need, whose numbers increase dramatically during turbulent economic times?

This is not a year for legislators to have their attention diverted from priority issues by the sort of political nonsense that too often marks the annual gathering of state senators and representatives. There is little time this year for selecting a state caterpillar, or naming buildings, or debating hot-topic federal issues over which Georgia legislators have no control.
Instead, it is a year for cutting inefficient spending, for reallocating money to essential services, for finding creative solutions to problems that have remain unsolved for too long.

This legislative session offers an opportunity for true leaders to emerge, for individual lawmakers with the conviction to make a positive difference to step forward. The economic well-being of Georgians next year and many years into the future will depend on decisions made under the Gold Dome of the state Capitol in the weeks to come.