ATLANTA -- Georgia legislators gave final approval yesterday to $415 million in spending cuts, reducing the state's budget for fiscal 1992 by 5.2%, to $7.54 billion.
By almost unanimous votes, Georgia's House of Representatives and Senate separately endorsed an agreement on cutting state spending that had been worked out between the two chambers. The agreement was nearly identical to one proposed last week by Gov. Zell Miller.
The lawmakers' bill -- which earmarks just $650,000 less in cuts than the governor had requested -- lays off about 2000 workers, trimming 5.2% from the original 1992 spending plan passed by lawmakers in the state's regular session held earlier this year.
The legislators came to their agreement on the ninth day of their special legislative session dedicated to budget work and reapportionment. In March, lawmakers adopted the original, $7.95 billion fiscal 1992 budget hoping that state revenues would rebound from last year's levels.
Instead, in the past several months collections of sales taxes and corporate income taxes have actually declined from year-earlier levels as the state continues to be mired in a recession.
But even though the final amount of cuts agreed to in the special session were virtually identical to those suggested by Gov. Miller, the lawmakers were able to hold off spending reductions for some programs. In particular, the legislators' budget restored a small amount of funding for services to the elderly, pregnant women, children, and the counties' extension service to farmers.
The major programs cut were the state's $3.3 billion budget for education, the state's university programs, and human resources. It also delayed opening five major prisons.
"The governor is very pleased with the passage of the budget," Peter Lee, assistant press secretary to Gov. Miller, said yesterday. Mr. Lee said he expects Gov. Miller to sign the bill "shortly."
According to one legislative staffer, the only truly substantive change to Gov. Miller's plan considered by lawmakers was a proposal by the leadership of the House of Representatives to sell $12.7 million of bonds to refurbish a state office building in downtown Atlanta.
That proposal was scrapped on Tuesday, ensuring passage of the conferees report yesterday. "The feeling was that we should just get on with passing the budget," the staffer said, noting that the proposal will be taken up again when the General Assembly meets in January.
With the budgetary cuts concluded, legislators began to call for a restructuring of the state's tax system in their regular 1992 session.
On Tuesday, Rep. Bill Dover, D-Clarkesville, asked that state and local officials begin considering revising Georgia's tax system to reduce reliance on the sales tax. In particular, he encouraged Georgians to consider eliminating current exemptions and imposing statewide taxes on telecommunications, cable television, hotel-motel occupancy, and luxury services.
Fitch Investors Service and Moody's Investors Service rate the state's $2 billion of general obligation debt triple A. Standard & Poor's Corp. rates Georgia's GO debt AA-plus.