ATLANTA, Ga. – Proposed budget cuts in Georgia could mean fewer state troopers on the road, fewer lawyers defending poor people and fewer probation officers.
That’s what state agency heads told lawmakers Wednesday as budget hearings continued.
Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed overall increases to the state budget, mostly based on higher pay for teachers, increased funding for K-12 schools, colleges and universities and higher spending on the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program.
But Kemp has proposed more than $200 million in cuts to other agencies for the remainder of the current budget year, and more for the budget year beginning July 1. Kemp says the cuts will clear the way for his spending priorities and offset lagging state revenues.
“I told people during the election that we needed to make government smaller, do more with less, and be more efficient,” Kemp told Georgia Public Broadcasting in an interview aired Tuesday.
But some cuts are just cuts. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Col. Mark McDonough told lawmakers that he would leave 55 trooper positions open in the 2021 budget year. He said that would probably push the state further away from its goal of having 860 troopers on the road, up from 814 now.
“A reduction in troopers on the roadways equates to an increase in fatalities,” McDonough warned, saying he was searching for other things to cut so the department could keep hiring officers.
While the Georgia Bureau of Investigation expects to have more money and people to combat gangs, the bureau would cut 20 vacant regional investigator positions. Lawmakers also questioned the bureau’s decision to freeze or eliminate 13 open positions at the state’s crime lab, which has a backlog of 44,000 cases. GBI Director Vic Reynolds told lawmakers he’s looking to outsource work to private labs, using nearly $1.4 million in grant funds to identify suspected drugs and analyze DNA.
“There is no issue more important to me today than addressing issues in the crime lab,” Reynolds said.
Jimmonique Rodgers, the interim director of the state Public Defender Council, declined to tell The Associated Press how many positions her agency would leave open to save most of its proposed $3 million. But she told lawmakers that she knew private attorneys would take less contract work after rates were cut, and that she wasn’t sure the state would be able to meet its constitutional obligations to provide lawyers to the indigent.
“To be honest, I cannot guarantee that,” Rodgers told lawmakers. “We will work to the best of our ability to identify efficiencies.”
Department of Community Supervision Commissioner Michael Nail told lawmakers his department would save $1.3 million this year and more next year by closing 26 offices. He says that will encourage officers to spend more time in the field and make the agency more efficient. But the department will also hold open 99 positions, including 37 slots for sworn officers.
Juvenile Justice Commissioner Tyrone Oliver said his department would save $11 million by closing its Sumter County long-term detention center. He said the agency would also eliminate 150 vacant jobs. He said those cuts wouldn’t impact services, though, because short-term detention facilities are one-third empty and long-term facilities are half empty.
Even some agencies getting overall increases, such as the state Department of Education and the University System of Georgia, will see cuts in some parts of their budgets. Lawmakers expressed concerns that university cuts were mostly aimed at agriculture and research.
“That’s where our farmers and the people of rural Georgia get their adaptability,” said Rep. David Knight, a Griffin Republican.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy