ATLANTA — Georgia's lieutenant governor is saying “Not so fast” on a proposed June 11 restart date for the General Assembly.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan released a statement Wednesday saying he wants the session to restart on June 15 to give time for lawmakers to get tested for COVID-19 after June 9 primary elections.
That's a shift in position for the first-term Republican, who has been pushing for lawmakers to return to the capitol this month. House Speaker David Ralson, a Blue Ridge Republican, has consistently sought a June 11 restart, saying that will give time for May revenue figures to be finalized before Gov. Brian Kemp has to revise the revenue forecast for the upcoming 2021 budget year.
Ralston has held the upper hand, as Duncan has admitted, because both the speaker and lieutenant governor must agree on a restart date under the terms that the House and Senate used to put the session on hold in March. Ralston has been steaming ahead on the June 11 date, telling House members to plan to be back then in a Tuesday letter, even though Duncan's office repeatedly said there was no deal yet.
Duncan's chief of staff, John Porter, said it would be smart to make sure lawmakers who have been campaigning ahead of the June 9 primary elections aren't infected with coronavirus before the session resumes.
“We thought we could get back in May and wrap up the budget in short order and with the assist of telemeetings and remote voting,” Porter wrote in a text message. “Now that it appears those obstacles are insurmountable, I think it's prudent to wait until everyone has the chance to get tested and we have all of the proper procedures and protocols in place to insure the safety of our members, the press and the public.”
The back-and-forth continued as lawmakers heard Gov. Brian Kemp's budget director and the state economist answer questions about budget plans for the remainder of the 2020 budget, which ends June 30, and the 2021 budget, which begins the next day.
Office of Planning and Budget Director Kelly Farr repeated earlier estimates by budget writers that Georgia would spend $1 billion to $1.5 billion of its $2.7 billion in rainy day savings just to cover shortfalls in the remainder of the 2020 budget.
Some of that shortfall stems from Georgia delaying the April 15 income tax deadline to July 15. State economist Jeffrey Dorfman estimated that the state had deferred $1.35 billion in tax revenue, and estimated the state would get back $1 billion to $1.5 billion in July. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England has said income tax revenue would likely be used to backfill the 2020 shortfall.
Dorfman said that in terms of the economy and tax revenue, "we expect we are near the bottom now,” but warned that Georgians could be slow to resume normal economic activity
“I think the first three months ... are likely to be pretty bad for us,” Dorfman said. “We'll see more returning to normal in the fourth quarter of 2020.”
It's Kemp's job to set a revenue estimate that limits what lawmakers can spend. Farr said Kemp plans to issue the new estimate around June 1. Agencies have been instructed to propose 14% budget cuts in 2021, more than $3.5 billion across the state budget. But Farr said the final cuts would be up to lawmakers once Kemp issued the new estimate.
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