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More than halfway with less revenue
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As of March 11, your Georgia legislature has completed 24 of 40 working days in Atlanta. We have 16 days remaining that will likely be spread over the next month in order to give us more time to search for budget solutions. We are also working on other areas of interest to improve the efficiency of state government and to make life less expensive for the citizens of our state.

Budget news here goes from bad to worse. We received word that revenue to the state for February 2010 versus the same month of 2009 was down 10 percent. That comes on top of a 38 percent decline in Feb 2009 over Feb 2008. The result is revenue to the state for the past two Februarys is nearly half of what it was in February 2008. It is statistics like that which are making it so hard for us to balance the budget as required by law. When we think we have made enough cuts to steady the picture, more decline is reported and further cuts have to be made.

The University System of Georgia (USG) has been the center of the budget conversation recently. Some media outlets falsely reported that the legislature was cutting popular university programs to help achieve a balanced state budget. In fact. we have no constitutional authority to cut any of their programs. We provide a sum of money to them each year so the USG and each institution can decide how to spend it. This policy is a result of legislative and the Governor's meddling in the USG many years ago that almost cost the system its accreditation.

Meanwhile, a bill that would allow Georgia health care customers to buy approved out of state health care insurance plans was endorsed by the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee. The bill is designed to increase competition among insurance providers to help drive down costs and expand access for many uninsured or underinsured Georgians. We feel this is the logical and economical way to bring health care reform to Georgia, not the reckless and socialistic ideas being debated in Washington. Our Georgia legislation would allow the state insurance commissioner to identify five states with similar health insurance laws as Georgia and provide for the sale of their approved policies in this state.

The Senate unanimously passed the Governor's legislation to improve water conservation and drought preparation in Georgia. The bill outlines new guidelines for plumbing fixtures, programs for voluntary water conservation and partnerships. The Governor's Water Task Force provided many of the ideas and hard work that went into completing the bill. It now goes to the House of Representatives for their review and work.

The legislature will return to Atlanta on March 16 for the 25th legislative day. We are fast approaching Day 30 which is the last day bills can pass between the House and Senate this year. Beginning Day 31, we will concentrate on bills from the House and visa versa.

As always, I appreciate the honor of representing you in Atlanta. Please feel free to call on me any time I can be of service.

 Senator John Douglas represents all of Newton and parts of Henry, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton Counties. He Chairs the Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee and serves on several others as well. He can be reached at 404-656-0503, e-mail, or through his Web site,