Power Struggle Under The Gold Dome: House votes to give itself more say in budget decisions

Power Struggle Under The Gold Dome: House votes to give itself more say in budget decisions

The Georgia House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed two bills Tuesday that would give the General Assembly more say over state spending and revenue decisions.

The measures sped through the House just one day after they were introduced because they had the backing of Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

Ralston and Gov. Brian Kemp have been at odds over the budget process since last August, when the governor ordered across-the-board spending cuts to help offset the impact of slowing tax collections. The speaker had the House Appropriations Committee hold hearings on the proposed reductions in September, only to see Kemp instruct executive branch agency heads not to appear.

Earlier in this year’s legislative session, the House took a break of a week and a half to focus solely on Kemp’s budget recommendations after Ralston complained the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (OPB) hadn’t provided enough information on the spending cuts the governor recommended when he presented his mid-year fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2021 budgets to lawmakers.

House Bill 1111, which cleared the House 144-14 on Tuesday, would limit the governor’s ability to withhold funds appropriated by the General Assembly. He could only do so when tax collections are trailing more than 1% behind revenue estimates and would have to inform the legislature of his actions.

House Bill 1112, which passed 138-28, calls for the creation of a five-member state council of economic advisors, three to be appointed by the governor, one by the lieutenant governor and one by the speaker. The council would set a range within which the governor would set a revenue estimate for the state.

“It does not take away the governor’s executive authority to set the revenue estimate,” said Rep. Clay Pirkle, the bill’s chief sponsor. “It puts some additional eyes on an important process.”

The legislation also would require executive branch agencies to share information on their budgets with the General Assembly at the same time they give it to the OPB and give lawmakers the right to review any proposed redirections of budgeted funds to another purpose.

During a brief debate on the House floor, Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, said he was concerned lawmakers might use the deliberations of the proposed council of economic advisors and the additional scrutiny the bills would give the General Assembly to play politics with the appropriations process.

But Pirkle, R-Ashburn, said the legislature would take its additional responsibilities as “a solemn duty.”

“This is a policy decision,” he said.

Several of Kemp’s floor leaders in the House voted against both bills, which now move to the Senate.

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