The General Assembly was in session Monday through Friday last week for Legislative Days 5-9. As the House Appropriations Committee began their second week of hearings on the Amended FY20 budget, it became abundantly clear that there are deep, substantive disagreements over budget priorities and proposed cuts that will likely dominate this entire session.
 
The tension over the budget has been building since last fall, when the Governor first proposed the 4% and 6% cuts to the FY20 and FY21 budgets and the House suggested that the gravity of the situation called for getting to work on the budget much earlier than normal. State agency heads were invited to come and present to the Appropriations Committee well before the legislative session started, in order to provide more time to explore the range of potential options. That effort was quickly quashed by the Governor’s Office who saw it as a legislative overreach into the Governor’s Constitutional authority to submit the annual budget without interference from the legislative branch, which has traditionally not occurred until the first week of the legislative session. Of course, every Governor’s budget request is ultimately subject to the old maxim that “the Governor proposes and the legislature disposes.” Budgets that get signed into law sometimes look quite different than what was initially proposed. 
 
Adding to tension over the budget has been the developing intraparty battle between supporters of Georgia’s junior United States Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Governor Kemp in December to replace the retiring Johnny Isakson, and those who have encouraged U.S. Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA 9) to run against her. This conflict was heightened when Collins was invited to serve as the Chaplain of the Day in the State House on Tuesday (Collins is also a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve), just two days before announcing that he would in fact be running against Loeffler. There was also an attempt in the House to amend a “housekeeping” bill that would allow the Secretary of State to set qualifying dates for elections (HB 575 by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem)) in order to force Loefller into a head to head May Republican primary with Collins, rather than the November “jungle primary” which would include all candidates from any party. Collins supporters believed a head to head Republican-only primary battle favored Collins and Loeffler supporters believed the November jungle primary favored her. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed, and the bill was amended so that it would not take effect until 2021, after this year’s elections. 
 
Nevertheless, it is safe to say that the tension between the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office is palpable at the Capitol. And anytime there are major conflicts over budget priorities, every other piece of legislation (even if it has nothing to do with the budget) can become a potential weapon in anyone’s attempt to gain leverage over their opponent.   
 
There are already rumors swirling that what everyone thought would be a short session, ending sometime in March, might now extend into late May as legislators grapple with the hard choices of where to cut the budget.
 
As one seasoned lobbyist was overheard saying, “We all know Déjà vu – where you feel like you’ve seen something before. But this session is starting to feel like it’s gonna be Vuja De - I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before.”
 
House Transportation Committee Chairman Kevin Tanner Running for Congress
 
Doug Collins announcement that he is entering the US Senate race opens up a third US House seat in Georgia where the incumbent is not running for reelection. On Thursday, House Transportation Committee Chairman Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) announced that he will run for Collins seat. Chairman Tanner has been a consistently pro-business leader whose impact goes well beyond transportation. He has always been a very good friend to ACEC Georgia and our industry and we wish him all the best in his congressional run, although we will greatly miss his leadership and wisdom in the Georgia House.