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Getting started in 2016
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The Gold Dome bustles with energy in the new year as we reconvene for the second session of the 153rd Georgia General Assembly. I am honored to represent you in the Senate and motivated to serve you at the Capitol in 2016.

I continue to act as vice-chairman of the Transportation Committee and join my fellow senators as a member of the Senate Appropriations, Finance, Rules and Regulated Industries and Utilities committees.

My 2011 appointment to the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Overview Committee (MARTOC) remains, as well as my role of Majority Whip in the Senate.

Keeping caucus members informed and educated about legislation is a job I take very seriously, so please continue to give me your feedback on the bills up for debate. It is very important that the Senate Majority Caucus fully knows and understands how certain pieces of legislation will affect Georgians.

Gov. Nathan Deal boldly set the agenda in his State of the State Address during a joint session held on Jan. 13.

He commended the state for the economic and financial progress made since 2011 and spoke of the true leadership shown through the trials of the Great Recession.

In looking ahead, Deal prioritized extra efforts in supporting K-12 and higher education, the unemployment rate and transportation.

Deal heavily emphasized education in his address.

He plans to allot $300 million of his 2017 budget to increase teacher pay, $416 million to K-12 education and $388 million to pre-K education.

He also seeks to give $17.1 million for technical college grants through the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Program and $58.3 million to the Move On When Ready legislation.

Deal believes emphasizing education will decrease our dropout rate, which currently stands at 3.66 percent per year with 96,660 students failing to finish high school between 2011 and our current school year.

He also wishes to drastically decrease the number of chronically failing schools that are affecting approximately 74,000 K-12 students in Georgia.

To honor and award our best teachers, Deal set aside funds to compensate them with a 3 percent increase in salary.

Along with education, Deal addressed the substantial decrease in our unemployment rate over the past five years, from 10.4 percent in 2011 to 5.6 percent in 2016, and stressed the importance of continuing to lower unemployment rates. To remedy turnover in government jobs, Deal added a 3 percent salary increase to all state government employees.

Transportation was another main priority of Deal's throughout his address.

He praised efforts to increase funding for the paving of roads which resulted in a decrease of 30 years or more between road resurfacings.

In his budget report, Deal allocated $100 million to the Department of Transportation for repairs and renovations of bridges through the state and more than $825 million in new state general and motor fuel funds for transportation in response to HB 170 from the 2015 Session.

During a press release on Jan. 12, Deal expanded on his plans for transportation transformation, including a 10-year, $10 billion plan to increase toll lanes, add new highways, bridges and roads and upgrade intersections.

Overall, we have a busy session ahead of us as we push these policies and new ideas to fruition and make our state outstanding.

Thank you to all of my constituents for your involvement and constant care for the 51st District of Georgia. You inspire me to continue fighting for our great state and the "American Dream."

Please call or email me with any questions, comments or concerns you have and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as Majority Whip of the Senate Majority Caucus. He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via email at steve.gooch@senate.ga.gov.