House Speaker Warns of Hits from Sequestration; Defends His Ethics Plan

Feb 26, 2013

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), speaking to the Atlanta Press Club in downtown Atlanta on Tuesday, February 26, 2013.
Credit Denis O'Hayer/WABE News

Another state official has warned that the big Federal budget cuts known as sequestration would hit Georgia hard.  This time, it was State House Speaker David Ralston. 

  If the President and Congress can’t reach a deficit reduction deal by Friday, some $85 billion in across-the-board cuts will begin.

In a speech to the Atlanta Press Club on Tuesday, February 26, Ralston said, if the cuts take full effect, Georgia programs will lose $240 million in Federal money in the coming fiscal year.

“It’s going to hit in Title One educational funding [which assists school districts with low-income student populations], special education funding, the WIC program [which provides funding for nutrition for low-income mothers and children] and a couple of different child care programs are going to take huge hits,” Ralston said.

Ralston, a Republican, said he did not want to get into the partisan back-and-forth taking place in Washington, over who’s to blame for the current impasse.  He said State House leaders are working on a plan to make up for any loss of Federal money, but declined to give specifics.

Ralston also defended his ethics reform bill (HB 142), which passed the House overwhelmingly on Monday.  Ethics watchdogs like William Perry of Common Cause Georgia, have said the bill doesn’t go far enough.

In a February 8 interview with WABE, Perry said of Ralston’s plan, “He had promised to put out a full ban on lobbyist gifts.  Instead he’s put out a ban that has so many loopholes in it, it’s not a ban at all.”

Perry has pointed to an exception to the proposed ban on gifts from lobbyists to individual lawmakers.  The exception allows groups to pick up the tab for travel and lodging expenses for office holders who attend meetings related to what the bill calls “official duties.”  Perry argued that’s not specific enough to prevent abuse.

But, Tuesday, Ralston said there’s nothing wrong with lawmakers having their expenses covered at meetings and conferences.

“They [conferences] are not all play,” Ralston said.  “And, you know, we’re called upon to speak, and we do panel groups and that’s official duties.  I mean, I don’t know how you can drill down and make it any more explicit than that.”

The ethics bill now heads to the Senate, which is working on a plan of its own.