A View from the House
By: Doug Holt; Georgia House Rep.
The fiscal 2010 budget was still in the Senate’s hands last week, as their Appropriations Committee reviewed the bill. However, the recently released February revenue numbers have us wondering whether this budget will have to be cut even further. State revenue during February was down an incredible 34.8 percent, compared to February 2008.
Contrast this to a drop of 14.3 percent for January, and 8.9 percent in December. It’s possible that this astounding plunge is some kind of statistical fluke, perhaps due to a slowed pace of businesses and taxpayers filing their 2008 returns. If such is not the case, and the trend continues, some rather dramatic budget decisions will be in order. Governor Perdue may have to call the General Assembly back for a special session later this year to deal with the problem. For now, all we can do is wait on further information.
In regular business, Senate legislation began emerging from the House committee system last week, and we considered 22 bills and resolutions. Several were significant or interesting.
• SB 13 would allow imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for life without parole for murder, even if prosecutors choose not to seek the death penalty. Current law requires punishment either by death, or by life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. The bill would create an option for a perceived gray area between those two sentences. It passed unanimously.
• SB 44 seeks to strengthen the purchasing preferences directing state and local governments to buy in Georgia, within reasonable and practical limits. In our present economy, the need for this goes without saying. I supported the bill, and it passed by 157 to 5.
• SB 123 is meant to deal with a problem associated with Pharmacy Benefit Management (PBM) firms. The PBM business has emerged in recent years to help deal with skyrocketing medical costs. These firms manage prescription drug benefit programs for health plans and large employers, and they focus on leveraging the buying power of their size to negotiate lower prices for drugs, as well as on reducing cost by using generic drugs wherever possible. It turns out that some of these firms may have negotiated “kickback” contracts with some of the big pharmaceutical companies, in return for which the PBM promotes use of a specific brand drug. This is a pretty questionable practice, especially if it is not disclosed to program members, it and has brought the industry under scrutiny. Some of the firms, wanting to keep their industry from descending into murky waters, have asked for sufficient regulation to constrain less ethical competitors. This bill would provide basic licensing, bonding and auditing requirements. I supported it, and it passed by 160 to 1.
Now for some transportation developments. As reported previously, both House and Senate had passed a version of a referendum based 1 percent sales tax for transportation funding. The versions were sufficiently different (one being statewide, and the other more of a local option program) that little progress had been made in reconciling them. However, the House has adopted a version that contains both options, with the public choosing between them in a referendum. Hopefully this will form a basis from which a final compromise can be reached.
• SB 200, the transportation governance bill, is undergoing rapid transformation. With the House Transportation Committee continuing to make significant amendments to the bill, Speaker Richardson has offered a major compromise. His new draft of the bill keeps the existing DOT and its leadership structure largely intact, while adding a director of planning position that would be appointed by the Governor.
Otherwise, it still offers the changes to planning, funding and legislative oversight proposed in the original version. This will likely pass muster with those of us in the House. The Senate and the Governor are quite another question. I still hope we can find a leadership solution satisfactory to all, so we can move forward with the other provisions.
Published in the April 2, 2009 Edition