Georgia’s budget under Nathan Deal

The first half of my Sunday column was devoted to the Wright Square Antique Mall, a great new entry on the downtown retail scene, but the second half was on an issue of much broader impact: the Georgia state budget. Read the column here.

I’m not exactly heartened by Gov. Deal’s policies or rhetoric, but he’s a welcome change — at least for now — after Sonny Perdue’s pie-in-the-sky predictions. From my perspective, the only good thing that came out of Perdue’s State of the State speech in 2010 was that I had the chance to use the term “rambling jeremiad”.

But there are all sorts of questions about Deal’s policies, especially his estimated savings from eliminating vacant positions (many of which were apparently defunded already) and potential changes to the tax code, which might result in Georgians paying sales tax on groceries. Deal’s budget is also going to continue to take a toll on higher education; he obviously expects changes to the HOPE scholarship in addition to funding cuts, but he has not said what changes he would like to see enacted. Alan Essig of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute raises some interesting questions about the elimination of positions in Budget leans on job cuts in the AJC.

As state budget issues take front and center for the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll be regularly consulting releases by the GBPI, which has already created this handy primer of the state’s budget issues.

The good news is that the state’s revenues appear to have bottomed and are well off their lows [UPDATE: I’m referring here to tax revenues, but I should add that some federal funding, particularly stimulus money, is disappearing]. The bad news is that we’re facing still more cuts in education and other key areas. I’ve long thought that cutting essential services will make Georgia less competitive in the long run, but that’s the direction the governor and the legislature want to take us. As noted in GBPI’s primer, “The state budget is more than a list of numbers.” Cuts to key programs have effects on real people . . . It’s worth keeping in mind.