In what is normally a traditionally ceremonial first day of session, members of the Georgia General Assembly passed two significant bills aimed at setting a positive course for Georgia's future.
On the opening day of session, Senators worked to advance student achievement in the classroom and ensure the right people are in place to lead our students.
Senate Bill 38, authored by Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers, passed the Senate last week in a unanimous vote to give the State School Superintendent the authority to hire and dismiss all employees at the Georgia Department of Education and State Schools for the Deaf and Blind.
Also awaiting the Governor's signature is Senate Bill 184, which passed with a 38-15 vote.
As part of the bill's provisions, school boards cannot simply use length of service as the primary factor when reducing the workforce.
Instead, the new law will require local school boards to consider a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom when considering whom to lay off during a workforce reduction.
Gov. Nathan Deal outlined his agenda at the annual State of the State Address by calling for additional funding in education.
Taking advantage of the recent stabilization in revenues, Deal proposed an additional $55.8 million to fund salary increases for our teachers based on training and experience. Unlike previous years, there are no reductions to QBE, Equalization Grants, state schools or other enrollment driven programs.
Georgia's teachers are paramount to the success of the next generation, and deserve to be compensated for their experience and proficiency in the classroom.
The HOPE scholarship is a vital economic development tool and is necessary to retain nationally competitive post-secondary programs. This is why we are working diligently to craft a sustainable solution to the funding problems that have previously threatened the program. This year, the Governor's budget proposals seek to prevent additional cuts to the HOPE scholarship by maintaining current scholarship award levels for the upcoming year.
Every day, school nurses play a critical role in providing top-notch health care services to Georgia's students. In keeping with the recommendations of the Education Finance Study Commission, the Governor's budget proposed an additional $3.7 million in funding for school nurses.
During the 2012 legislative session, lawmakers will also be laser-focused on balancing the state budget amidst a projected 1.9 billion dollar budget shortfall.
Comparatively to other states, Georgia boasts a constitutionally balanced budget and operates under a traditionally conservative fiscal process.
To reduce state spending, legislators will have to make some challenging decisions in Fiscal Year 2012 as stimulus funds, reserves and one-time funds are no longer available.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Over the past several months, state revenue collections have steadily increased and helped replenish the state's "rainy day" reserve.
Tax reform continues to be a hot-topic up for debate this legislative session.
Last year, the Special Joint Committee on Georgia's Tax Structure considered several pieces of legislation to change the current tax code to provide sales tax exemptions for energy used in manufacturing.
Providing this key exemption to Georgia businesses has received overwhelming support among members of the General Assembly for its ability to increase Georgia's overall economic competitiveness. If passed, the estimated annual fiscal impact for manufacturing exemptions is estimated at $144 million.
In addition to balancing the state budget and pushing tax reform measures, one of the key strategies for economic recovery will be focused on job creation.
In recent years, Georgia has quickly become an attractive destination for companies to do business. With accessibility to one of the nation's busiest airports and proximity to some of the nation's leading Fortune 500 companies, including Home Depot, Delta and Coke, Georgia has become one of the top 10 states to conduct business.
Though the government isn't primarily responsible for job creation, it plays a vital role in creating a more favorable business climate for the future growth and development of our state. To build a world-class workforce here in Georgia, we must continue to develop strategies that further boost Georgia's competitiveness in the global marketplace and thereby increase our ability to attract an innovative and highly-skilled workforce.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative to streamline government operations and reduce the size and scope of state government.
Several neighboring states, such as Florida and Alabama, have enacted laws specifically tailored to evaluate the productivity of state agencies and entities. These laws, better known as Sunset Reviews, have been paramount to determine the continued need and existence of state-run programs.
In 2011, Georgia legislators called for similar measures through the creation of a Joint Legislative Advisory Committee.
As a Senator representing the 51st District, we are blessed to have an abundance of natural resources such as the Chattahoochee National Forest, some of the most pristine trout streams in Georgia, the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi and beautiful mountain vistas as far as the eye can see.
To safeguard these precious resources for years to come, it's imperative for us to resolve the ongoing water debate between our neighboring states, Florida and Alabama, and to address the need for adequate water allocation between the three states.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to support legislation aimed at cultivating an environment advantageous to the future prosperity of Georgia. As your representative of the 51st Senate District, I look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to contact my office, and let me know how I can serve you best.
Sen. Steve Gooch can be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.