The Associated Press January 28, 2011, 8:05AM ET

Ga. Senate, House tackle zero-based budgeting

Hours after the Senate voted to undo ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue's veto of a budget overhaul bill, the House opted for a different approach Thursday, with its leader saying he prefers working with the current governor to picking a fight with the former one.

Speaker David Ralston said the House will send the Senate's bill into committee and introduce its own budget reform legislation on Monday when the Legislature reconvenes. At issue is the concept of zero-based budgeting, which would require certain state agencies to justify all of the expenditures each year. Under the current system, department heads are only required to explain why they need budget increases.

Ralston said Thursday the new proposal is a more legal and responsible -- and less adversarial -- approach to the issue.

"The House is more interested in working today than fighting yesterday's battles with a governor who is no longer here and has gone home," Ralston said. "This allows this governor to have an opportunity to lead on this issue. I think the people of Georgia want us to spend time looking forward and not back."

Zero-based budgeting has won support from both legislative chambers in the past, but the measure died repeatedly on Perdue's desk. The Senate voted unanimously to override Perdue's veto of last year's version of the bill, which would require at least a quarter and no more of a third of the budget to be zero-based each year.

The state now operates under a continuous budget, where new spending programs approved by the General Assembly are automatically rolled over into the succeeding budget.

Sen. David Shafer, the bill's sponsor, told his colleagues the current budgeting process hides waste and doesn't allow for much discussion.

"This system ... makes it difficult for us as lawmakers to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money," Shafer said.

The Senate bill also makes the entire budget subject to zero-based budgeting every four years -- the length of one gubernatorial term.

The language of the bill, which was revived from last session, would apply to the fiscal 2012 budget. The timing could not be changed for the override vote. Ralston said this presents a problem for the current governor, Nathan Deal, who has already submitted his budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Office of Planning and Budget would determine which programs would be required to submit zero-base budgets each year. No agency would be required to submit to the process more than once every four years.

Deal signaled support for zero-based budgeting during his campaign last year. He told The Associated Press on Thursday he supports zero-based budgeting but has some concerns that the Senate override could impact this year's budget, which has already been introduced. He said the new House bill could prove a better option.

"That direction, on the face of it, sounds like the most prudent approach, I would think," Deal said.

When asked about the House proposal, Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams said if the House adopts its own version of zero-based budgeting the Senate could come aboard.

"We just want this to pass," Williams said.


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