This week, the Georgia General Assembly recessed in order to review our state budget. This is one of the most important tasks of the General Assembly during each legislative session. Not only does our state constitution require it, but passing a balanced budget also ensures that our state agencies receive appropriate funding without burdening Georgians with debt.
Each year, Governor Deal offers his budget recommendations during his “State of the State” address. These recommendations serve as a guide for legislators during the appropriations process and while most of the recommendations are solid, it is important that we also hear from the state agencies that are dependent on these funds for basic operations. The Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Georgia Ports Authority and the Department of Economic Development are just a few of the agencies that present their expenditure plans.
For FY2014, Governor Nathan Deal has proposed a $19.8 billion budget, which is a slight increase from last year’s budget. Our Revenue Shortfall Reserve, or “rainy day” fund, stands at $378 million not counting the amount that will cover K-12 enrollment growth in FY13. This means that in the case of an emergency, our state could continue operations for a full seven days—but we must continue replenishing this reserve account.
Although Georgia’s economy is finally seeing some growth and declining unemployment, we are still navigating our way out of a national recession. Spending reductions are necessary to make sure we spend within our means and balance the state budget. However, even with the slight budget reduction, Gov. Deal maintained funding for key areas such as public safety, health care, education and economic development in his recommendations, including:
$147 million to fund enrollment K – 12 enrollment growth
K – 12 Needs: $3.8 million provide funding for more school nurses, professional development, and classroom technology
$246 million to fund Medicaid and PeachCare expense growth
- · $35 million to provide funds for mental health, including additional case management services; a new crisis service center, crisis stabilization program and expansion of mobile crisis services; housing for an additional 600 individuals; new supported employment and peer services; and additional options for consumer transportation
$25 million in bonds for water supply projects through the Department of Community Affairs and Georgia Environmental Finance Authority
$50,000,000 in bonds to expand and deepen the Savannah Harbor
$16 million in additional motor fuel funds for road and bridge projects based on anticipated revenue collections
Georgia’s higher education programs account for approximately 11 percent of the state’s budget, and therefore require a thorough account of every taxpayer dollar. As the chair of the subcommittee on higher education, I look forward to working with my colleagues to support policies that prepare Georgia’s students for today’s workforce.
Although HOPE has seen its fair share of challenges, its funding has increased by 3 percent over the last year, bringing HOPE’s total funds in FY2014 to nearly $600 million. Furthermore, Governor Deal has proposed $85 million in funds for growth of the University System and $58 million in bonds for improvements to our Technical College System. This good news ensures that Georgia students will have the tools needed for success.
The next step for both the FY 13 amended budget and the FY 14 general budget is to go through the legislative process. The proposed budgets will be introduced in the House—all fiscal bills start in the House—and must be passed before traveling to the Senate. Any significant changes in the bill between the House and Senate will require an appointed conference committee made up of members of both chambers to agree on a compromised version of the budget before it can be signed by the Governor.
I know the process seems confusing, but I am glad to answer any and all of your questions about the appropriations process. Please feel free to contact my office at any time to talk about the budget, pending legislation or to address other concerns in our district – my door and phone lines are always open!