1/23/19 - Atlanta - Georgia Governor Brian Kemp leaves the podium after he addressed the 2019 Season Joint Budget hearings, which continued Wednesday for the 2019 amended and 2020 state budgets. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Georgia agency stops staff furloughs after hearing from the governor’s office

A state legal agency has told its staffers that furloughs will end after hearing from Gov. Brian Kemp’s budget office.

The Georgia Public Defender Council - which represents indigent defendants - had planned to furlough employees 10 days this fiscal year to meet Kemp’s call for 4 percent budget cuts from most agencies. Staffers had one furlough day - the loss of a day’s pay - last month.

However, Kemp’s office confirmed that the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget talked to agency officials and the furloughs won’t be continued.

The move comes about a month after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that state agencies were planning hundreds of layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs of state workers to meet Kemp’s demand for reduced spending.

The governor’s budget office has spent the past few months reviewing agency plans to reduce spending.

Kemp’s budget director, Kelly Farr, told lawmakers in September that jobs cuts should be a last resort for agencies devising plans to reduce spending. But many of the agencies being asked to cut back - such as the state patrol, the department of corrections and the driver’s license agency, spend most of their money on employees, so reducing spending is difficult without impacting staffers.

Kemp this summer ordered agencies to cut 4 percent this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and six percent next year, to both prepare in case of a recession and provide money for his priorities, such as teacher pay raises.

The fact that state tax collections - largely from income and sales taxes - have been poor during the first third of fiscal 2020 has bolstered the governor’s position. The state fiscal economist told lawmakers in September that there was a 50-50 chance of a mild recession next year.

The state also may have lost a chunk of money Wednesday when the Department of Revenue ruled that a jet fuel tax break that lawmakers thought had expired was, in fact, still in effect. That could cost the state - and save airlines like Delta - about $35 million a year.

Kemp’s budget cuts would save about $200 million this year and $300 million next year.

Not everything is being cut equally across state government. Some massive enrollment-driven programs -- such as K-12 schools, universities and Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled -- are exempt.

In all, only about 23% of the state-funded portion of the budget was not exempted. Agencies on the hook for cuts include the departments of Agriculture, Corrections, Driver Services, Public Health, public defenders, the Georgia State Patrol, the GBI, most of the Department of Natural Resources, and the administration of K-12 schools and colleges.

Through the state’s budget, taxpayers help educate 2 million children, provide health care to more than 2 million Georgians, build roads and bridges, manage parks, investigate crimes and incarcerate criminals, and regulate insurance firms and utilities along with dozens of professions.

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