Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Senate Approves Barnes' Budget Republicans Lose 'Pork Barrel' Battle

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Senate Approves Barnes' Budget Republicans Lose 'Pork Barrel' Battle

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Senate overwhelmingly approved Gov. Roy Barnes' 2002 budget request yesterday, after defeating several attempts by minority Republicans to replace "pork barrel'' projects with spending for more general needs.

The $15.4 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which passed 43-13, raises public school teachers' salaries by 4.5 percent, less than teacher groups had requested. It also rolls back state property taxes another $83 million, bringing the governor's tax-cut program to $249 million for three years.

The Senate also added $420,000 to provide the Georgia Bureau of Investigation with eight additional agents to monitor the growing video poker industry, particularly in counties bordering South Carolina. Another $1.3 million added in by the Senate would pay for an additional 50 driver's license examiners to conduct the road tests required by a Senate bill being pushed by Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.

And senators went along with the House version of the budget in funding 75 more state troopers for the Atlanta region and another 60 positions for the Environmental Protection Division, 10 fewer than Barnes had sought.

But some Republicans balked at the nearly $9.6 million in pork barrel projects added by the Senate Appropriations Committee, in addition to the almost $12.7 million the House already had folded into their version of the spending plan.

GOP lawmakers long have maintained that the money is used by the governor and Democratic budget writers to reward friends and punish enemies. They added to their list of grievances yesterday by complaining that, in the case of next year's Senate projects, 88.2 percent will go to districts represented by Democrats and only 11.8 percent to Republican districts.

"Is that right? Is it even moral?" asked Sen. Sonny Perdue, R-Bonaire. "All of the citizens of Georgia pay taxes. . . . [Tax revenue] doesn't just come from those areas it's going back to."

Majority Democrats rejected three attempts by Republican Sens. Mitch Seabaugh and Tom Price to strip all or part of the pork out of the budget.

Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, tried to trade virtually the entire House pork-barrel allocation to fund an additional 150 troopers statewide, instead of the 75 Barnes requested for metro Atlanta. The freshman also offered to swap $2.6 million in pork spending to give troopers pay raises of $2,000 above salary increases already in the budget for the State Patrol.

Price, R-Roswell, went even further, proposing to eliminate all legislative pork projects -- $21.7 million worth -- to provide prescription-drug coverage for Georgia senior citizens, a commitment Republican candidates made on the campaign trail last fall.

Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson took a different approach, offering two amendments cutting 0.9 percent of the budget across the board, except for the Department of Education, to tack an additional 1. …

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