Ralston wants federal aid for coronavirus-depleted budgets

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ATLANTA - Georgia House Speaker David Ralston is asking Congress for $500 billion in aid to state governments suffering the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., this week, Ralston called for assistance to the states to be included in the latest federal COVID-19 relief legislation, which is stuck in Congress amid sharp disagreements between congressional Democrats and Republicans and the Trump administration.

The state is doing its part to respond to plummeting tax revenues resulting from the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, Ralston wrote. He pointed to the 10% across-the-board spending cuts the General Assembly imposed in the fiscal 2021 budget lawmakers adopted in late June.

“In addition to reductions that include hiring freezes, new programs slated to begin in [fiscal] 2020 were rescinded,” he wrote. “The only significantly new service approved is to address Georgia’s unacceptable maternal mortality rates.”

The state also has reduced its budget reserves by more than half since the start of fiscal 2020 just more than a year ago, from $2.7 billion to about $1.3 billion, Ralston wrote.

The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in May earmarking more than $1 trillion for state and local governments. Thus far, however, the White House has offered $150 billion, the same amount states and cities received from a coronavirus relief package Congress passed back in March.

“Georgia’s economy is typically a strong network of diverse revenue streams, but the pandemic has affected all of them, even those like motor fuels that typically resist downturns,” Ralston wrote. “The lagging effect on our largest revenue sources, income and sales taxes, is presenting us with additional challenges for months to come.”

Without significant congressional assistance, more spending reductions could be in the offing. Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday he intends to call the General Assembly back to the Capitol for a special session later this year in part to take up adjustments to the budget.

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