ATLANTA -- As Georgia's fiscal plight deepens, Gov. Zell Miller last week asked lawmakers to cut up to $400 million from fiscal year 1992's $7.9 billion budget in a special legislative session scheduled for August.
Gov. Miller, who blamed the state's problems on a continuing lull in economic growth, stopped short of pushing for increased taxes.
"Very simply, we face the most severe budget crisis in my memory, and it is tim to take unprecedented measures," Gov. Miller said. "Let there be no misunderstanding: I am committed to making whatever cuts are necessary to maintain our strong fiscal position and excellent credit rating."
Until a legislative solution is reached, Mr. Miller said, the state would furlough all of its 100,000 employees one day a month, saving about $8 million a month. The governor also froze all new spending and hiring and postponed implementation of new programs. In addition, he directed every state agency to prepare a plan to cut its budget by 10% and its work force by 5%.
Georgia's fiscal problems are not new. When he took office in January, Gov. Miller adopted the cuts of his predecessor, Joe Frank Harris, to meet a $336 million shortfall predicted for fiscal year 1991. He then asked the legislature to approve a bare-bones $7.9 billion budget for fiscal 1992 that assumes revenue growth of 6% above fiscal 1991 collections.
Gov. Miller also must face the state's current hard times without the rainy-day fund available to his predecessor. Last year, Gov. Harris drew down all $194 million that had been accumulated in that fund.
But the decision to cut spending in fiscal year 1992 came last week after review of particularly disappointing revenue collections in June. In the past several months, collections have continued to fall from year-earlier level, sparking widespread concern.
"The economic slowdown that has plagued Georgia for two years is still very much with us," the governor said. "Predictions for recovery were wrong, and it now appears that revenue growth will remain weak well into fiscal 1992."
Last month, according to Marcus Collins, commissioner of Georgia's department of revenue, the state took in $639.9 million, 3.2% below the $660.9 million of revenues collected in June 1990, and about 6% short of the expected revenue collections on which the state bases the 1991 budget.
The June figures follow a disappointing month in May, when collections were 9% lower than in May 1990. Mr. Collins was particularly disappointed in receipts from the state's sales tax last month, which, at $ 243.2 million, showed only 1.1% growth from June 1990.
He also expressed concern about its collections of corporate income taxes, which, at $55.5 million, were 44.7% under those in June 1990; and its receipts from the motor fuel tax, which, at $28 million, were 9.4% below the year-earlier period. Receipts from personal income tases, however, were a bright spot in June at $276.5 million, up 9.5% from June 1990.
With the June collections, revenues for fiscal 1991 totaled $6.87 billion, up only 1.1% from the $6.8 billion collected during fiscal 1990, according to Mr. Collins.
"Obviously, collections for the year  were not sufficient to meet the department's share of the official revenue estimates," Mr. Collins said. "However, because of actions already taken by Gov. Miller to reduce budgeted expenditures and utilize surplus program reserves, the state apparently will not be in a deficit posture for the fiscal year," he continued. "It is important, however, for the state to continue vigorously to follow guidelines proposed by the governor to reduce dramatically the fiscal 1992 budget."
Gov. miller also confirmed that Georgia began its current fiscal year on July 1 without a deficit, but only by borrowing about $90 million from surpluses maintained for special uses, such as the state's contribution to Medicaid. Those funds must be reimbursed, however, during fiscal 1992.
Rating agency officials expressed concern over the trend in Georgia, particularly in light of the fact that the state no longer has a rainy-day reserve.
"Georgia's problems demand pretty strong action, and it has to be more than a patchwork solution," George W. Leung, managing director of state ratings at Moody's Investors Service, said Friday. "What we will be looking for are the permanent and continuing budgetary actions in the legislative session scheduled to begin Aug. 19."
"I think what has happened is that Georgia, unlike some other states, didn't lower their revenue estimates for fiscal 1992," Claire Cohen, executive managing director, Fitch Investors Service, said Friday. "Now it appears the state's economy has been slower to pick up than had been expected. We are monitoring the situation closely."
Fitch and Moody's Investors Service rate Georgia's $2 billion of general obligation debt at triple-A. Standard & Poor's Corp. rates Georgia GOs AA-plus. The state last sold GOs with a $289.2 million competitive offering in April.