An 'extraordinary circumstance': Georgia General Assembly taking time off to address budget

ATLANTA — The Georgia General Assembly is set to take a week and a half off to address budget decisions.

The House and Senate both voted on a resolution that delays convening until Feb. 18, which House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, called in a press release an “extraordinary circumstance.”

"We were sent here to do a job and we are going to do it and we are going to do it together," Ralston said on the floor. "... I don't believe it behooves us as a body to come down here and speed through spending $28 billion of taxpayer money to just go home before somebody's lease runs out or go home to run in reelection."

The resolution allows appropriations committees to meet “as needed” but asks chairmen of all other House committees to suspend meetings.

Ralston has been outspoken in his concern about the governor’s mandated 4% and 6% budget cuts and lamented to lawmakers to do their job and not watch the clock.

There will be no legislative end-date until there’s a “clearer picture” of the state’s budget, he said last month. Ralston said there are a number of cuts that are hanging up decisions regarding mental health, public safety and criminal justice reform. Some agencies couldn't produce sufficient data to justify the proposed cuts, he said.

“As I have said, the $28.1 billion state budget is of paramount importance,” he said in a memo to lawmakers. “The administration’s budget proposal contains a number of recommended cuts that could have serious policy ramifications and impact thousands of our fellow Georgians.”

Ralston said he expects an amended budget for House consideration by the time legislators reconvene. Ralston added the Senate and House have had an "honest disagreement" on the need for the break.

"When you're being asked to make cuts, those require painful and difficult choices," he said, "so naturally it is a more deliberative process than maybe in good times."

The speaker said lingering budget decisions could mean some measures aren't taken up this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan released the resolution in the Senate. He told lawmakers the House asked for more time to review budget details and the Senate agreed.

“We understand there’s a tight budget situation across the state this year," Dugan said on the floor, "and the House needed a little bit more time to review the information that they are receiving from the state agencies because we get one chance to get this right.”

Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

The updated legislative calendar:

• Feb. 18-21: Legislative days 13-16.

• Feb. 24-28: Legislative days 17-21.

March 2-5: Legislative days 22-25.

March 9-12: Legislative days 26-28.

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