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“Budget week” shows legislators Gov. Brian Kemp’s priorities
Kevin Tanner
Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville. - photo by For the Dawson County News

Tuesday, Jan. 22 marked the beginning of the second week of the 2019 legislative session, also known as “budget week.” 

During this eventful week, the House and Senate Appropriations committees held a series of joint budget hearings, and Gov. Brian Kemp presented his budget recommendations for the amended current and upcoming fiscal years to the committees.

The joint Appropriations committees and subcommittees also met and began reviewing Gov. Kemp’s recommendations in order to turn those recommendations into actual legislation that will guide our state’s spending.  This week was especially busy as we began the arduous process of ensuring that our state revenue is spent wisely to meet the needs of all Georgians.

The state budget process is one of the most important responsibilities we have during the entire legislative session.  The Georgia General Assembly is required by our state constitution to pass a balanced budget each legislative session.  After hearing Gov. Kemp’s budget recommendations this week, the Appropriations Committee and subcommittees will continue to meet and will ultimately draft two budget bills: the Amended Fiscal Year 2019 (AFY 2019) budget and the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) budget. The AFY 2019 budget is an amended budget for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, and uses a more accurate estimate of state revenue to account for any differences between the previous estimate and actual revenue obtained.  The FY 2020 budget is a full budget for fiscal year 2020 that uses a projected state revenue estimate to guide state spending beginning on July 1. 

Gov. Kemp presented his budget recommendations, in detail, for AFY 2019 and FY 2020 on Jan. 23. 

Gov. Kemp opened his budget remarks by reminding us of the hardships Georgia has weathered from the Great Recession to the recent devastation of Hurricane Michael.  Despite the economic adversity we have endured, Georgia remains the top state to do business, with an unemployment rate of only 3.5 percent – the lowest in 18 years.  Gov. Kemp’s budget proposals seek to build on Georgia’s accomplishments, with approximately $435 million in “new” revenue for the AFY 2019 budget, and $27.5 billion in total funding for the FY 2020 budget.

In order to build on our accomplishments, we must strengthen our foundation.  As such, Gov. Kemp promised to invest in those that educate and lead our students.  Gov. Kemp’s FY 2020 budget includes $480 million to ensure that certified public school teachers receive a permanent pay increase of $3,000 in order to attract and retain the best and brightest educators.  Nearly 44 percent of Georgia educators change careers within the first five years of teaching; therefore, teacher pay must remain competitive to keep our educators from leaving the profession.

In addition to investing in school personnel, Gov. Kemp also prioritized school safety in his budget.  The governor’s AFY 2019 budget includes $69 million in one-time funding for school security grants.  Under the governor’s proposal, every school in Georgia would receive $30,000 to implement school security policies that would be determined at the local level. Furthermore, to enhance school safety, Gov. Kemp emphasized the need to address mental health issues that may lead to school violence.  Gov. Kemp’s budget recommendations include $8.4 million in additional funding for the APEX program to focus on mental health in Georgia schools.  This crucial funding would allow APEX to continue to equip schools with professionals that engage with struggling students to prevent dangerous behavior.

Gov. Kemp also addressed the increasing concerns about access to quality healthcare in Georgia.  He appropriated an additional $1 million in the FY 2020 budget for the Department of Community Health (DCH) to pursue “flexibility” options for Georgia’s Medicaid program.  With this additional funding to explore new possibilities, the DCH would be able to seek solutions in our Medicaid program to increase choices, improve quality and access for affordable healthcare for more than 400,000 Georgians who are without coverage.

Other highlights from Gov. Kemp’s proposed AFY 2019 budget include: $92.1 million for a midterm adjustment for increased enrollment in public K-12 and state charter schools required by the Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding program; $5.8 million for the Georgia Trauma Network Commission to further enhance the trauma system in our state; $35.7 million in additional funding to the Forestland Protection Act grant; $14 million in one-time funds for statewide water planning; and $5.6 million for hazardous waste cleanup activities (DNR Hazardous Waste Trust Fund). 

Now that the joint budget hearings are over, the AFY 2019 and FY 2020 budgets will continue to move through an extensive legislative process.  The House Appropriations subcommittees will spend time further examining Gov. Kemp’s recommendations before passing portions of the budget out of their respective subcommittees.  Each portion of the budget will then be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee, which will pass balanced budget bills for AFY 2019 and FY 2020.

Once the House passes the balanced budget, the Senate will repeat this committee process before voting on the budget on the Senate floor.

As the budget moves through the Senate, it will likely differ from the original version as passed by the House.  When this happens, the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor will both appoint a conference committee to resolve discrepancies between the House and Senate versions of the state budget.  When the conference committee reaches an agreement, their version of the budget goes back to the House and Senate for a final floor vote.

Both chambers must vote on the conference committee’s version of the budget to guarantee that all contents are fully agreed upon by both chambers.  After the budget has completed this legislative process, the final legislation is sent to Gov. Kemp’s office where he can veto or sign the budget into law.  All legislation must go through this process before becoming law.

As you know, I am continuing the tradition of holding a weekly informational breakfast each Saturday during session.  This Saturday we will be meeting at 9 a.m. at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville. I look forward to seeing you there.

I am honored to serve as your Representative at the State Capitol.  I am always available to assist you and encourage you to contact me with questions or your opinions.  I can be reached on my cell phone at (678) 776-5059, at the Capitol at (404) 463-1160 or by email at kevin.tanner@house.ga.gov.