Ralston won’t set end for legislation session until ‘clearer’ budget picture emerges

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

News and analysis from the AJC's political team

House Speaker David Ralston will not set an end-date for Georgia's legislative session until lawmakers get a "clearer picture" of sharp budget cuts that are expected to dominate debate under the Gold Dome.

The speaker delivered the pointed message Wednesday at the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast, a gathering sponsored by the Georgia Chamber that attracts a crowd of thousands that includes lawmakers, local officials and business executives.

He told the audience that the debate over cuts to the budget is “too important to be influenced by a legislative calendar” as lawmakers prepare to hash out Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to order state agencies to cut spending 4% this fiscal year and 6% next year.

Ralston and other top Republican leaders have recently applauded the budget-slashing move, which has been reinforced by a recent dip in state collections. But the speaker issued a reminder that lawmakers in his chamber have a different approach to the spending plan.

“I have already cautioned our members that one person’s waste can be another’s vital expenditure. So we will carefully scrutinize this year’s budget, bearing in mind the nearly 11 million Georgians impacted by those numbers,” he said, adding: “We were elected to do a job, and we will do that job and do it right.”

The governor largely used the platform to highlight the state’s economy and his 2019 agenda rather than unveiling a new proposal or policy for this year.

He also signaled that his State of the State speech on Thursday will focus in part on new efforts to crack down on gang violence and combat sex trafficking.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan echoed another of Kemp’s top priorities, calling for an overhaul of the foster care system. He said that state data show nearly all foster children in the state who age out of the system wind up living below the poverty line.

“It’s absolutely the right thing to do,” said Duncan. “Every one of us in Georgia is proud that Georgia is the No. 1 place in the nation to do business in. I want foster kids to say it’s the No. 1 place for foster kids, too.”

The lieutenant governor also announced a new “Georgia Innovates Task Force” to be co-chaired by retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and Bud Peterson, the former president of Georgia Tech.

He said it’s designed to come up with policy proposals to make Georgia “the technology capital of the East Coast.”