A week from now members of the state’s General Assembly will be gathering in the capital city for the Jan. 10 inauguration of
Nathan Deal as the 82nd governor of Georgia and the dropping of the gavel on the opening session of the 2011 legislative session.
Perhaps this year more than some others it is fitting that the session begins during the bleak days of early January, as the cold and blustery weather may well foretell the climate of what promises to be an austere session of the Assembly.
While he has thus far painted the budget picture with broad strokes and few details, the governor-elect has made it clear that bringing fiscal order to the state government is high on his priority list.
In public speeches and media interviews, Deal has said that cuts have to be made in state spending and that now is the time to restructure state government into a more efficient operation complete with a redefined purpose.
Others atop the state’s power structure have echoed the governor-elect. Both Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Speaker of the House
David Ralston have promised that bringing the state budget under control through reductions in expenditures rather than higher taxes will be the focus of this year’s gathering of legislators.
“We need to downsize state government ... and get out of some services we’ve been involved in during previous years,” said Cagle in an interview.
“It’s important we really address the core function of government and get out of doing some things that we don’t need to be doing. This is an opportunity to downsize,” Ralston said.
Deal has made it clear he expects a reduction in Georgia’s 104,000 state employees once the dust has cleared on the next state budget. How much of a reduction, and from which departments, are the details that must be resolved by legislators.
For his part, Deal certainly has the experience to be a leader in the process, having served with distinction for many years as a state senator before being elected to Congress.
Once legislators begin the serious debate of how to cut back state government, the great hue and cry will begin. Are schools more important than public health? Social programs more important than public safety? Highways more important than environmental protection?
Already the lobbyists and special interest groups are lined up to convince lawmakers that their particular area of interest is a vital function of the state.
But in listening to Deal, Cagle and Ralston, there seems to be a commitment to truly establishing a baseline of what state government service should be at its very foundation. If they can do so and develop a state budget accordingly, the coming legislative session will prove to have been successful indeed.