published Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Revised $18.6 billion budget approved by Georgia House

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    The Georgia State Capitol building located in Atlanta, Ga
    Staff File Photo

ATLANTA — Metro Atlanta would get hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation funding while Georgia farmers would get help finding workers they say were driven away by a crackdown on illegal immigrants under an $18.6 billion budget adopted Friday by House lawmakers.

The House voted 159-0 to approve the revised spending plan for the current financial year ending in June. That budget proposal written by the GOP majority largely sticks to an earlier spending proposal from Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. It now heads to the state Senate.

“It shows a deliberate and no-frills approach to the financial management of this state,” said Rep. Terry England, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Democrats did not oppose the plan or try to change it.

The proposed budget earmarks $300 million for the long-stalled Northwest Corridor, a plan to build a tolled highway intended to relieve congestion on Interstates 75 and 575. Deal supported the highway in his annual State of the State address, but he opposed an earlier proposal that relied on a public-private partnership to build it.

The budget also includes $200 million for airport improvements. Before backing the budget, House lawmakers approved paying for the increased transportation spending by tapping tax money raised from fuel sales in previous years.

The state Department of Agriculture would get an additional $75,000 to hire specialists responsible for helping Georgia farmers navigate a federal program that grants visas to foreigners willing to work temporarily in the U.S. agriculture industry. Some farmers have said they cannot find enough help since Georgia adopted a harsh law last year cracking down on illegal immigrants.

That new law gradually requires employers to use a federal database called E-Verify to check whether new hires are allowed to work legally in the country. It also makes it a felony crime with serious penalties to use false information or documents when applying for a job. In June, a federal judge blocked other parts of the law pending a legal challenge.

Lawmakers in the budget plan approved giving nearly $8,000 to a state board tasked with investigating public employees or officials accused of ignoring the new law targeting illegal immigrants. The board has the power to investigate complaints, hold hearings, subpoena documents and witnesses and take disciplinary action.

State lawmakers have not yet addressed Deal’s proposal for the financial year starting in July.

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