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Georgia Legislature

Georgia Senate committee advances amended spending plan

(The Center Square) – The Georgia Senate Committee on Appropriations approved its proposal Monday to spend $2.6 billion more in the current fiscal year than previously planned.

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The spending amount matches Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposal for additional spending through June 30. One of the Senate’s top spending lines was $189.8 million for the state to match federal funding in Congress’ $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

“It’s prudent, it’s one time, and it puts future legislators in a better position to meet the needs of the state,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, said.

The Senate also set aside funding for rural downtown improvements, mental health, nurses and corrections officers’ pay raises, parks, agriculture and nutrition.

The Georgia General Assembly must review and approve spending changes for the remainder of fiscal year 2022 and approve a budget for fiscal 2023, which begins July 1. The governor released his budget proposal last month, which reflected an overall $3 billion increase in spending. The House approved its updated 2022 plan Feb. 11.

Budget leaders proposed spending $29.8 billion in fiscal 2022 and $30.2 billion in fiscal 2023. The current spending plan for fiscal 2022 is $27.2 billion.

Georgia is required to match 20% of the federal government’s allocation to the state from the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed by President Joe Biden in November. Georgia has not received its share of federal funding yet, but Tillery said he wanted to earmark it before it’s too late. About $166 million will be allocated from Georgia’s general fund, and $23 million will be directed from the state’s reserve fund.

“We do not know when Congress will act to appropriate these funds. We know that we can’t set aside our match too early. We could, however, set it aside too late,” Tillery said. “This one-time appropriation at a time when we can set aside required funds will mitigate the burden on future motor fuel collections of matching this large influx of federal dollars and federal spending.”

The Senate committee has proposed spending $4 million to provide $2,000 bonuses to school nurses. The House proposal called for $1,000 bonuses. The Senate also wants to spend $26 million for incentive payments for nursing homes and $5 million to bolster nursing programs.

The plan doubles the House plan to spend $14.9 million on state parks improvements and increases the House’s pay increases for correction officers from $5,000 to $9,000.

Senate budget writers approved $20 million in rural downtown development grants. The proposal also sets aside $1.6 million to increase mental health and bereavement services for children.

The Senate committee agreed with the House and governor’s plans for other state employee raises and bonuses, state vehicles and maintenance and repair and upgrades for government buildings.

All three proposals restore more than $382 million in cuts to K-12 education and provide $93 million to K-12 schools to accommodate enrollment growth. The House approved spending $500 million on $5,000 raises for employees and $2,000 bonuses for teachers.

The Department of Public Safety would replace more than 300 vehicles. The state also would spend $188 million to replace 1,747 school buses over the next three years.

The current proposals allocate additional funding to repair and upgrade state buildings. It includes $432 million to roll out Kemp’s $600 million plan to buy a newer prison and construct a new 3,000-bed prison and $45 million to move state agencies from a Peachtree Street building to Capitol Hill.

Budget writers also allocated money to fill new state positions and $150 million to pay out state worker’s compensation claims that go as far back as 1982.

Under current plans, Georgia would spend $250 million more on Medicaid, including $8 million to create the state health care exchange, under Kemp’s limited Medicaid expansion.

Georgia residents could receive more than $1.6 billion in tax refunds if the amended budget passes. Kemp announced a plan Jan. 11 to give single tax filers a $250 refund, heads of households $375 and $500 to couples that file jointly. The refunds will not come from the same pot of money set aside for the budget. Instead, they would come from an increase in state tax revenue resulting in a surplus at the end of fiscal 2021.

The full Senate must approve the appropriations committee’s proposal. Both chambers of the General Assembly then must agree on a fiscal budget before the spending plan is sent to Kemp for final approval.

By Nyamekye Daniel | The Center Square

The Georgia Virtue
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