Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Why Georgia legislators shouldn't go whole hog on the budget

(Our old imaginary friends from the Georgia GOP, Brown and Johnson, got together last night at the Legislature’s annual Wild Hog Supper. Here's what they discussed.)

“Well, if it isn’t the original ‘wild hog’ himself! How are you, Brown?”

“Doing great, Johnson, doing great. This has to be the happiest I’ve seen these legislators in years. They finally have some money to play with in the budget.”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

“I know, I know, Johnson. Hold onto your wallets when these rascals get together!”

“It’s more than that this time, Brown. Have you been watching the news?”

“I’ve been too busy watching my portfolio. Every time the Shanghai index drops 7 percent — twice this past week! — our own markets get jittery.”

“Yeah, and what did your boy Donald Trump say this week?”

“Hey, I ain’t voting for Trump! Well, probably not…”

“Uh huh. Well, his latest bright idea is to slap 45 percent tariffs on Chinese imports.”

“A trade war at the brink of a recession! Just like in the 1930s!”

“That’s not all, Brown. Iran and Saudi Arabia are rattling their sabers at each other, Russia’s dropping bombs in Syria, and ISIS keeps fighting in Iraq, but the price of oil keeps going down. That’s good for our wallets, but it’s a bad sign for the global economy that oil’s falling despite all that risk in the Middle East.”

“I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

“Back home, a bunch of economists have cut their estimates of fourth-quarter growth. You know, right when the Federal Reserve thought we were in good enough shape to start increasing interest rates.”

“Yeah, it’s looking rough, Johnson. But what does all this have to do with our legislators?”

“Remember what you were saying about them having money to play with in the budget? I looked at some old budgets the other day: That’s exactly what they did eight years ago, too. Do you recall what else happened then?”

“The bottom fell out of the economy.”

“Yep. But just before that happened, our legislators raised spending by $1 billion for the 2009 fiscal year. When they came back the next January, things were so bad they had to cut $2.2 billion out of that same budget.”

“Yeah, they weren’t so happy at these events back then. But what should they do, Johnson? Not increase spending at all?”

“I wouldn’t go that far. I think — I hope — we’re not about to repeat 2008. But if there’s still such a thing as being fiscally conservative, they need to be cautious. Spend the new transportation money as it comes in, because it’s supposed to go to transportation. I wish they could wait on all the other new items until they see what comes in; that’s always a problem when you budget based on your estimates of what’s coming, instead of spending what actually came in the year before.”

“I keep hearing the state agencies are losing talent because state workers haven’t gotten raises in so long. What do you do about that?”

“It does seem to be a problem, Brown. But it’ll be a big blow to morale if legislators have to come back next year and cut pay or lay people off. There’s no good answer here, but it might be more prudent to pay out one-time bonuses in the amended 2016 budget, and plan for more of the same in the 2017 budget if revenues go up after all.”

“It sure would be nice not to have to talk this way next year.”

“Yep, but maybe if they tread carefully this year, we won’t have to.”

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.