Albany legislators prepare for Georgia State Assembly

Winfred Dukes

The Georgia General Assembly convenes its legislative session on Monday and there's plenty on the legislative agenda.

We sat down with one local Democrat and one local Republican to get their views on the upcoming session.

Both agree the main action will be on the state budget.

The Georgia General Assembly begins 2011 facing decreasing tax revenues â" down from $20 billion in 2002 to $17 billion in 2010 â" and a Constitutional requirement for a balanced budget.

"A large percentage of the deficit is because of the stimulus money we took in the past and now we have to fill that gap with state dollars," said Republican State Rep. Ed Rynders.

Rynders believes the answer is less government.

"You can either raise revenues or raise taxes or again, cut the government," he said. "I believe that what we'll see is cutting the cost of government."

Representative Winfred Dukes and other Democrats believe the state has a revenue problem, not a spending problem.

Dukes blames tax cuts aimed at corporations and senior citizens.

"For the last five or six years," said Dukes. "We have lowered taxes. We have moved from being number three in the taxed states in the Union to number one."

Both Dukes and Rynders agreed that one of the challenges facing this year's legislative session is adequate funding for the state's school system. Last year's stimulus package included additional funding for Georgia's schools but this year, that money won't be there.

"I don't know whether our education in the state can really continue to receive the cuts it has received in the past and still to be a viable entity," said Dukes.

"K through 12 education makes up about, a little over 50% of the budget overall," said Rynders. "It's hard to make the kind of cuts that are necessary without touching 50% of the budget."

Dukes sees educational spending is an investment in the state's future.

"We cannot continue to create jobs for the people of the community unless we provide an educational system for the children of this community to move into those jobs," said Dukes.

Vital programs that may also be on the chopping block include public safety and healthcare - along with education, they represent 80% of the state budget.

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