Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Many Fret about Hiring Freeze GOP Blasts Barnes for Moving Too Slowly

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Many Fret about Hiring Freeze GOP Blasts Barnes for Moving Too Slowly

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Legislative Democrats got behind Gov. Roy Barnes yesterday, one day after the governor imposed a partial hiring freeze on state government, while Republicans claimed vindication for the stand they took on spending during last month's budget debates.

Meanwhile, state departments heads were crossing their fingers pending meetings with the governor's staff next week that Thursday's order won't cut too deeply into their operations.

The hiring freeze prohibits state agencies from filling most current and future job vacancies. A notable exception is on-the-road personnel with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the State Patrol.

Barnes also ordered his budget office to conduct a thorough review of all new and expanding programs to see whether they're necessary.

In putting the brakes on state spending, the governor cited deepening concerns about the economy. Earlier this week, Georgia State University reported that economic activity fell in nine of 13 Southeastern states, including Georgia, in the last quarter of 2000.

The region's growth was down to a 0.6 percent annual rate after reaching 6 percent last spring. The slowdown was led by slumps in manufacturing and construction.

On Friday, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman George Hooks praised Barnes' response to the negative economic news.

"I think it's good fiscal policy to watch the ongoing programs," said Hooks, D-Americus. "That's where he is concentrating . . . not just on salaries."

But Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson said Barnes and legislative Democrats should have seen the signs of a slowing economy during last winter's budget debates. Republicans argued then that the state was spending too much -- particularly on pork-barrel projects -- at a time when surrounding states were running budget shortfalls.

"They were spending money to buy re-election and maintain power, hoping and praying that the economy didn't cut into the take-home pay of the Democratic majority," said Johnson, R-Savannah. "It looks like the chickens have come home to roost. …

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