MACON, Ga. — Georgia’s agriculture-related state agencies sustained some budget cuts, but it could have been worse, Rep. Terry England and Sen. Blake Tillery told Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) members during the first installment of “Digging In,” an occasional webinar series hosted by the GFB President Gerald Long and the GFB Public Policy Department.
England, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and Tillery, the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, detailed the challenges – both physical and fiscal – the Georgia Legislature faced in a session interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We tried to provide some certainty where we could in a lot of uncertain times,” said Tillery, who took over the Appropriations chairmanship following the death of long-time Sen. Jack Hill in April.
Even with drastically reduced revenue, England said the budget provided the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with funding to address key functions. GDA was allotted funding for food safety inspectors. DNR received funding for scientists to help develop the growing oyster industry off the Georgia coast.
For other areas of state government, the mindset was to have damage control.
“Sometimes you look at our state budget and realize that the best you can hope for is to stay where you were and not go backward, or not go far backward,” England said.
He pointed out that while Georgia Agricultural Education and the UGA Cooperative Extension Service did see their state funding trimmed the budget writers looked for ways to soften the cuts.
“We realize how important those programs are for training youth not only necessarily in production agriculture, but in the leadership side of agriculture we’re going to need in our communities going forward,” England said.
Across the board, state agencies saw funding cut by 10% by the time the session closed. When the Legislature reconvened in June after three months out of session, the prevailing expectation was for a 14% cut. The House and Senate got this down to 11%, and Gov. Brian Kemp tapped into the state’s reserve to get it to 10%.
“That one percent truly made a difference in what we were able to do,” England said. “It lessened significantly the amount of pain that would be inflicted by some of the reductions, either through furlough days or reductions in force.”
More than 100 people registered and signed in for the webinar. The GFB Public Policy Department is planning future installments.
–Georgia Farm Bureau