The upper chamber's version of the spending measure, which will now be the subject of House-Senate negotiations, curtailed a boost to the education budget that the House had championed in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The Senate added about $56 million to help restore years-old "austerity cuts" made during the state's last period of sagging revenue, down from the House's $85 million plan. While education spending has actually increased, budget documents list cuts because the spending amounts to less money than what the state's per-pupil formula would otherwise dictate.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, admitted the Senate plan wasn't ideal.
Now, we want to do more," Hill said.
But he said senators not only had to deal with Gov. Sonny Perdue's reduced revenue expectations -- which sliced the amount lawmakers could spend by $245 million -- but also had to fix some "really questionable cuts" the House made to the budgets for the Department of Corrections and the state's main welfare agency, the Department of Human Resources.
House leaders indicated as early as Thursday, when Hill's committee passed the Senate plan, that negotiations between the two chambers could be long and tense, particularly over education funding.
"There are substantial and great differences between the budget that left this chamber last week (and the Senate version)," House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, said then.
Austerity cuts for the coming fiscal year to schools in the cities of Commerce and Jefferson and Barrow, Clarke, Greene, Jackson, Madison, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties would total almost $4.2 million. It's not clear how much the districts would benefit from either the House or the Senate proposal until the Department of Education divvies it up.
The upper chamber did sign on to a $7.2 million increase in spending for the expansion of MCG, with much of that funding expected to go toward a proposed campus in Athens. And the Senate left alone $6 million in bonding for UGA, including $4.5 million in bonds for equipment for the new College of Pharmacy and $1.5 million in bonds to design the Special Collections Library.
Because both chambers agreed to those measures, it is likely they will go to Perdue for his signature or veto after negotiations are complete