ATLANTA -- Georgia Gov. Zell Miller's plan to slash $415 million from the state's $7.95 billion budget for fiscal 1992 zipped over its most important hurdle yesterday, as the state's House of Representatives approved virtually all of the governor's spending reductions.
Representatives meeting in the third day of a special legislative session reduced spending for the fiscal year that began July 1 to $7.54 billion in an effort to plug an anticipated revenue shortfall. The revised budget would lay off 2,200 workers and cut 5.8% from the original 1992 spending plan passed by lawmakers in the state's regular session held earlier this year.
The austerity package passed by the House -- which dictates the largest layoffs in state history -- must now be reconciled with a Senate version expected to be passed in the next several days. Next week, conferees from both chambers will meet to work out any differences between the two bills.
"The speed with which this budget package has moved is sort of overwhelming," Joe E. Brown, the House's public information officer, said yesterday. "The cuts are painful, but nobody really has any alternatives to the governor's plan."
The representatives also backed the governor's call for authority to furlough state employees, although they added a stipulation that this power expire at the end of 1994.
Representatives departed little from Gov. Miller's script, as their most important revision scaled down $10.4 million in suggested cuts to the state's agricultural extension service. Representatives instead voted to impose $6.9 million in cuts to the program.
Gov. Miller, who refused to consider a tax increase to balance the state's budget, has presented his plan as an effort to slash state bureaucracy rather than impose more fundamental reductions in spending for education and human services.
"What we need is a wise government that provides fundamental services to its citizens in the most efficient way possible and not in an indifferent and wasteful fashion," the governor said in a prepared statement. "But we are going to do more than shed just enough excess government to get us through the present fiscal year. Instead, we are going on a serious, long-term diet that will change the habits and patterns of state government on a permanent basis."
The plan as approved by the House would cut 2.5%, or $85 million, from the state's $3.3 billion education budget. Other reductions include: cutbacks in state university programs, saving $79.3 million; delays in opening five major prisons, reducing spending by $48.2; and cutbacks in human resources, trimming $37.9 million.
In March, lawmakers adopted the original $7.95 billion fiscal 1992 budget, hoping state revenues would rebound from last year's levels. Instead, in the past several months collections of sales and corporate income taxes have actually declined from year-earlier levels as the state continues to be mired in recession.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Tom Murphy said Tuesday that even after the cuts of the special session, further spending reductions are likely during the regular 1992 session, which begins in January.
"I don't think we have bottomed out on the recession yet," he said. "When we come back in January, we may face more cuts. We have to cut through the bone, down to the marrow, and then cut some more bone."
Fitch Investor's Service and Moody's Investors Service rate Georgia's $2 billion of general obligation debt triple-A. Standard & Poor's Corp. rates Georgia GOs AA-plus.