Last year the General Assembly passed the original FY 2011 budget totaling $17.8 billion. That budget directs all state spending from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011 and reflects the effects of our unprecedented economic downturn at the time.
As we know, things change and budgets must be adjusted. The General Assembly updates the state budget each year via an amended budget, primarily to adjust the amount allocated for education. This week we did just that when my colleagues and I passed House Bill 77, the Amended FY 2011 State Budget.
When the original FY 2011 budget was passed after months of hard work and deliberation, our state was experiencing months of uninterrupted declining revenues. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Each month of our current fiscal year has seen slow, but steady, revenue growth. This includes the sluggish month of January, which became the eighth straight month of economic growth in our state.
This growth has been largely driven by jumps in individual income and increasing consumer spending. While we still have a long way to go, there are clear indicators that our state economy has stabilized and is now steadily increasing.
As a result, we added a little more than $163.3 million dollars to the original FY 2011 budget.
While increasing revenue and the beginnings of economic recovery are welcome news, the minimal growth we are seeing is not enough to fund the $400 million hole in the budget. Therefore, cuts totaling $303 million (4 percent) must be made by all state agencies and departments, except education. Though a 4 percent cut is unfortunate, it was the lowest reduction possible. Originally, state agencies and departments planned for 8 percent cuts.
These agency and department cuts, coupled with the revenue shortfall reserve, allowed us to fund some of our state’s most vital programs. In fact, we added $152 million to K-12 education alone.
The House version of HB 77 also includes an extra $149 million for Medicaid, $31 million for HOPE, $13 million for community-based metal health services and $10 million for economic development.
Additionally, this amended budget adds $21.7 million to fully fund Disproportionate Share Hospitals, which are hospitals that treat a high number of uninsured individuals. The amended budget also maintains the integrity of our benefit and pension programs for Georgia’s civil servants and ensures our continued AAA bond rating, a key to securing low interest rates for the state.
As a member of the House Appropriations K-12 Education Subcommittee, I always keep in mind that our children are our top priority. Vital education programs which I was able to help preserve include continuing the GALILEO contract and funding the Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers.
Additionally, I helped replace funds for the education of foster children who are institutionalized. These children are wards of the state and we are their “board of education.” It is up to us to provide the additional funds needed over and above those received through the QBE formula.
The $152 million of added education funding includes $83 million for increased K-12 enrollment and $12 million to provide differentiated pay for newly certified math and science teachers.
The House version of the amended budget prioritizes funding to our state’s core responsibilities. This conservative spending ensures our continued solvency while laying a more solid foundation for future budgets.
HB 77 will now be considered by the state Senate, which will probably pass its own version of the Amended FY 2011 Budget. As we continue to work with our counterparts in the Senate on passing a final version of this legislation, I will continue to keep you apprised of any major changes.
Next week we start looking at the FY 2012 Budget. It is the one with the additional $1 billion plus hole left by the expiration of federal stimulus funding.
The challenges there will make the Amended FY 2011 Budget look like child’s play.
My Saturday morning breakfast with constituents continues at 8 a.m. on Feb. 19 and March 5 at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega. At 8:30 a.m. Feb. 26, we will meet at Ryan’s in Dawson County.
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capital Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone (404) 657-7857; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788. He’ll know how to get your message to me. Remember, the secret of good government is a well-informed electorate.