BRADENTON, Fla. — On his third day in office, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal unveiled a $37.54 billion budget for fiscal 2012 that recommends $563 million of bonds and a four-year plan to borrow $300 million for reservoirs.
Speaking to a joint session of lawmakers gathered for his first state of the state speech, Deal said he wants to maintain Georgia’s triple-A ratings and proposed a bond package that is about half what the state typically has issued annually.
“I urge you to join me in keeping our borrowing at a lower level than the past,” the Republican governor said. “I believe that is the wise course of action.”
The recommended $37.54 billion spending plan for fiscal 2012 is $1.67 billion less than the current budget. Total state fund appropriations are $18.16 billion, an increase of $273.15 million over this year’s budget.
Deal said the greatest challenge for 2012 is replacing almost $1 billion in federal stimulus funds that will not be available.
“The economy has begun to stabilize and Georgia businesses are seeing the first signs of recovery,” he said. “We are now entering a new era of smaller government and greater personal responsibility. Our state’s fortunes do not rise and fall with the size of government.”
Deal proposed cutting state agency budgets by an average of 7% and eliminating 14,000 authorized positions — most of which have been vacant because of a freeze on hiring.
Spending cuts are not uniform, Deal said, and would result in a net increase of $30 million for K-12 schools.
Federal health care mandates “will greatly add to the burden that we face,” he said, adding that the state would be required to add 650,000 Georgians to Medicaid rolls at a cost of $2.5 billion over the next 10 years.
Bonding proposals call for $231 million for K-12 education, $15 million for certain charter schools, $35 million for water and sewer infrastructure, $50 million for the university system, and $28 million for technical colleges.
Another $32 million of proposed bonds would finance the deepening of Savannah’s harbor, which Deal called the most important “public works project for the competitiveness of our entire region.”
“When the enlarged Panama Canal comes online in 2014, we will be ready to receive the Post-Panamax ships heading north,” he said. “These larger ships improve cargo rates for shippers and receiving these ships in Savannah will have a ripple effect throughout the state.”
Though the 2010 Census showed that Georgia’s population grew 18.3% over the last 10 years, Deal said the state’s economy and ability to attract business are threatened by a lack of water.
Growth and droughts have “Georgians focused on water availability more than at any point in our state’s history,” he said.
Deal plans to continue the legal fight to overturn a federal court ruling that would take effect in 2012 and limit the amount of water that can be withdrawn from lakes near Atlanta.
He said he will continue negotiating with Alabama and Florida over using water from the lakes.
“But that is not enough,” Deal said. “That’s why I am recommending $300 million [of bonds] spread over the next four years for reservoir creation and expansion. We believe this money can be leveraged best in the form of local-state partnerships as we work together to ensure a sustainable water supply.”
Deal did not recommend any new bonding for transportation.