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The top Democrat in the Georgia Senate recently made his case that his party has the better plan to revitalize the state’s economy.
The proposal by Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson included an interesting claim about Georgia’s finances that we wanted to fact-check.
"State revenue projections have missed the mark month after month," Henson, a veteran lawmaker from DeKalb County, said in a news release.
Liz Flowers, who wrote the news release, explained to us what Henson meant. State budget officials projected revenue collected by Georgia’s government would increase by almost 5 percent during the 12-month fiscal year that will end June 30, said Flowers, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus.
Henson’s point is there have been several months in which the state fell below the 5 percent mark. While Georgia lawmakers did not make monthly revenue estimates, Henson believes it is fair to examine revenue on a monthly basis by the 5 percent benchmark, noting that the state’s finances are tracked on a monthly basis.
"It wouldn’t make sense to check our state budget only annually," Henson said.
Georgia lawmakers passed a budget this year that they expected to collect about $19.2 billion in total revenue for this fiscal year. The overwhelming bulk of state revenue comes from property, sales and income taxes. About $1 billion of that money comes from lottery sales and other sources, which are directed to specific state programs. The $18.2 billion in projected general revenue is a 4.9 percent increase from the prior fiscal year, which began July 1, 2011, and ended June 30, 2012.
Georgia’s estimated increase for the current fiscal year was higher than most states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Economists say Georgia’s economy is growing, which they attribute to an increase in information technology, business services, manufacturing and transportation jobs.
Each month, Gov. Nathan Deal’s office releases a breakdown of total taxes and revenue the state collected the prior month. Here’s the breakdown:
July 2012: up 7.4 percent.
August 2012: up 1.9 percent.
September 2012: up 3.9 percent.
October 2012: up 6.4 percent.
November 2012: down 0.7 percent.
December 2012: up 9.8 percent.
Georgia’s revenue increased less than 5 percent in three of those six months, according to those estimates. The monthly breakdowns do not explain why state revenue was lower during some months. Through those six months, state officials estimate they have collected about $8.5 billion in total taxes and other revenue, a 4.9 percent increase over the same period in the prior fiscal year.
The state’s fiscal economist, Ken Heaghney, told a joint committee of Georgia lawmakers on Jan. 22 that tax collections are projected to increase by 3.9 percent for the rest of this fiscal year.
Henson said the state’s latest estimate of a 3.9 percent increase for the remainder of the fiscal year also validates his argument.
"In 2012, Georgia's revenue projections remained low for nearly half the year. A spike to 9 percent in December made up ground in the governor's revenue projections," Henson said.
To sum up, the senator claimed "state revenue projections have missed the mark month after month." Revenue increased less than 5 percent in three of the six months so far this fiscal year. The state, though, doesn’t do monthly revenue projections, and Georgia is on pace to increase its revenue by almost 5 percent from the prior fiscal year.
Technically, there’s accuracy in Henson’s statement, but there’s also some important context missing. We rate his statement Half True.
Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus, "Senate Dems Roll Out ‘13 Leg Agenda," Jan. 15, 2013.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "State fiscal economist predicts ‘slow but steady growth,’ " Jan. 22, 2013.
Email interview with Sen. Steve Henson, Jan. 23, 2013.
Georgia Office of Budget and Planning, Fiscal Year 2013 proposed budget.
Georgia Department of Revenue, Fiscal Year 2013 Revenue Collection Reports.
National Conference of State Legislatures, "Fiscal Brief: Projected State Tax Growth in FY 2013," Sept. 25, 2012.
The Warner Robins Patriot, "Georgia’s budget forecast: FY 2013 and beyond," Nov. 7, 2012.
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