MOULTRIE -- The Georgia General Assembly begins its law making session Monday, and the first order of business is to elect speakers of each chamber. After that, it's money, money, money.

Money seems to be on every legislator's mind; Georgia collected $247 million less in the first six months of the fiscal year than it did last year. That's a decline of 3.9 percent, and the budget was based on a growth estimate of 1.2 percent.

Moving up from the House and unwilling to raise taxes, Sen.-elect John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, wants to postpone and cut expenditures with the particular exception of education allocations and Medicaid. The Department of Human Resources proposes to cut funding to nursing homes, but Bulloch won't go that route, he said.

"We're going to have to tighten our belt and find ways to survive during this shortfall of revenue we've been experiencing now for two years," he said.

On the up side, Bulloch said the last two months have shown an improvement in income as Gov. Roy Barnes' expenditure cuts took effect.

Rep. Richard Royal, D-Camilla, said Georgia is in better shape than any surrounding state.

"This new governor is taking over a $900 million shortfall reserve that he can work with. He was left in good shape fiscally," Royal said, adding he will push for lightening the school property tax burden on senior citizens.

New arrival Rep.-elect Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, backed Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue's position on weathering more than a year and a half of declines.

"As the governor said, we're going to have go on a diet in Georgia. We're going have to eat salad, because of that we're going to have a healthier, stronger Georgia," he said.

Rynders wants to make the government more efficient but is not ready to say where he wants to see budget cuts.

"I take the attitude I don't rule anything in or out, but that's probably based on being a freshman more than anything," he said.

So far, Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, has been focused on Rep. Larry Walker, D-Perry, securing the speaker's post in the House.

"I think that a lot of things will hinge on Monday," Scott said. "I expect Larry Walker to be speaker. Once we have the speaker, with Larry established and the committees are set, then we'll start looking at the specific pieces of legislation. The things that I expect us to address, obviously, are the budget and taxes."

Depending on what revenues are over the next several weeks, Scott said lawmakers will have to look at not only funding the state obligations, but helping out at the local level, often dependent on sales tax revenues.

Royal, a Democrat, said he's in the process of redrawing district maps for Georgia. Republicans pilloried Democrats for the obvious gerrymandering, holding up Colquitt County (with 10 congressional and state representatives) as the poster child of reapportionment's ills.

Rynders and Scott are banging that same drum, pushing for a new map.

Regarding redistricting, Rynders, Scott and Royal are looking, at the minimum, to piece back together the split precincts and, better yet, the split counties. The state House has about 45,000 persons per district, and every county doesn't make that population count and are subsequently split.

In addition to budget and reapportionment, Scott believes that a ban on late-term abortions and the bill "Mothers Right to Know" will pass, and legislators also will attempt to address ethics legislation.

"I think you'll see an ethics package passed that will allow honest people to serve and get the unethical people out of office. The goal of the ethics package is going to be to remove the bad apples, but when we pass this ethics package we've got to be careful we don't discourage honest people from wanting to serve," Scott said.

The Tifton House member also expects hunting and fishing laws to change, particularly removing the prohibition of feeding deer to hunt.

Royal sums up his optimism that his fellow Democrats will break down partisan walls and cooperate with his friend Perdue, the first Republica

n governor in Georgia since Reconstruction.

"I think we all have the same final objective: what's right for the people of the State of Georgia. ... I can assure you that the Democratic House will not be obstructionist. When the governor's right, I will support him wholeheartedly. When we think he's not right, we will sit down like gentlemen and ladies and discuss it," the House veteran said.

Rynders, new to the capitol, is playing it safe until he establishes a rapport, he said.

"My strategy is to stay focused. I've gotten a hotel which none of the other legislators are in and that way I can come to my room early and do my reading and not attend all the parties and try to learn the issues," the freshman legislator said.

"I think the message is that you better act like you can get along and cooperate and do what's best for Georgia. ... And a lot of times the people in the past who haven't shown that spirit of cooperation, now they're ready to act like they are. And, hopefully, they will."

The remaining Colquitt County state legislators, Sen. Rooney Bowen, R-Cordele, and Rep. Penny Houston, D-Nashville, were not available for comment Friday.

To contact reporter Lori Glenn, please call 985-4545 ext. 224

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