Tourism, global commerce, rural broadband budgets among Georgia COVID-19 cuts – The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Georgia agencies that work to promote the state’s economic growth have found creative ways to reduce spending by 14 percent while still keeping their priorities intact.

State agencies were directed to find space in their fiscal 2021 budgets to make up for $3.6 billion in lost revenue caused by the response to the COVID-19 health crisis.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) helps local governments and communities develop and prepare for economic opportunities.

“That will remain a large focus for us,” DCA CEO John Ellis told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Economic Development Subcommittee on Thursday. “I know most people think of DCA as the money agency because we give out a lot of grants, which is going to remain important.”

Most of DCA’s reductions would apply to local community-based programs.

Subcommittee members were concerned a $2 million cut in initial funding for a program that tracks areas in need of broadband access may be detrimental at a time when there is a higher demand for remote services.

“Obviously, with the pandemic, the ability for schoolchildren in rural Georgia to be able to access online learning has – it’s critical at this point,” Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, said. “Before it was something we wanted to do. We wanted to push on, but at this point, the disease really has made it absolutely necessary.”

Ellis said he was confident the program could continue with DCA’s federal funds.

The Holocaust Commission, which currently is operating under DCA, will save $608,000 by transferring its administrative needs to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

Commissioner Pat Wilson of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDED) said the agency would have to cut most of its travel and marketing costs and international contracts to reduce its budget by $4.7 million.

GDED is Georgia’s lead agency for attracting new businesses, tourism and entertainment to the state.

Jordan said the cuts might need to be revisited as consumer confidence changes.

“So, the way I’m looking at the budget cuts that you’ve suggested this really is supposed to just be for kind of the immediate future,” Jordan said. “Because obviously, global commerce, international relations and tourism are huge, with respect to your agency’s mission.”

Tom Kraus, public information officer for the Public Service Commission (PSC), and Kevin Clark, executive director of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, also presented before the subcommittee Thursday.

Kraus said PSC would have to furlough employees for 15 days and cut at least 27 vacant positions.

Only three agencies under Environmental Finance Authority receive state funding, and there are pass-through funds, Clark said. The department will trim those funds by $118,000 among the three.

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