Budget drives policy— and vice versa

  As the legislative session winds to a close, many have focused on what did not pass this year, including two of the most controversial pieces of legislation: casino gambling and Certificate of Need reform. Both will likely return for legislative consideration next year, and both have been, rightly or wrongly, linked to the most important bill of every year, the budget. Every year, Georgia legislators pass two budgets or appropriations acts: the “big budget” for the next fiscal year and the “little budget,” which consists of the appropriations for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30. It is often repeated that passing a budget is the General Assembly’s only constitutional obligation. In many ways, it is also its most important for several reasons. First, unlike the federal government and states that are near bankruptcy like Illinois and California, Georgia is one of many states that has a balanced budget amendment. This means that Georgia cannot run a deficit, and should revenues fall short of what was anticipated in the Governor’s revenue estimate, the Governor is empowered to withold however much of each appropriation necessary to be sure that the state does not fall into the red. During the economic downturn of 2008-2010, this practice was frequently utilized, as the State spent anywhere from 4% to 6% less than the General Assembly appropriated in some of the years. Second, depending on one’s perspective, the budget to drive policy or policy decisions can drive the budget. This is particularly true when budgets are down, but it is also true when revenues are up and there...

Georgians Should Vote Yes on Amendment 3

  I have represented judges before the Judicial Qualification Commission. I know and respect the members of the JQC, past and present. I followed the legislation seeking to reform the JQC, and I have considered, with interest, the arguments of those opposing JQC reform. In the light of these experiences, I will be voting “YES” on Amendment Three. As passed, Amendment Three will not change the JQC all that much. The accompanying legislation provides that the Supreme Court will keep its two appointments. The governor would lose one appointment, but there does not seem to be much fanfare about that. The most significant change would be that the State Bar would nominate persons to be appointed by the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, whereas the State Bar currently has the power of direct appointment. This change would bring the JQC in line with most government commissions where third parties may not directly appoint individuals to government commissions. Rogers v. Med. Ass’n of Ga., 244 Ga. 151, 153 (1979). Viewed in this context, Amendment Three and its accompanying legislation will not bring about earth-shattering change. The General Assembly can already impeach judges. See Ga. Const. Art. 3, Sec. 7, Pars. 1-3. It can also use its existing powers of the purse and of legislation to limit courts’ effectiveness. Thus, if it were scheming to punish jurists that displease it, the legislature would not need to work through a third party like the JQC. The main argument against Amendment Three appears to be a fear that the General Assembly’s appointment (versus confirmation) of JQC members “politicizes” the...

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