A miracle took place in the House of Representatives last week. For the first time in recorded history, a budget passed without a single dissenting vote on either side of the aisle.
Last January Gov. Nathan Deal conservatively estimated state revenues of $18.3 billion for Fiscal Year 2012.
We used that estimate to build the FY 2012 budget, which directs state spending from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. Since then, we have seen modest economic growth resulting in state revenues slightly higher than estimated.
Each year we pass an amended budget to account for the difference in revenue between what was estimated and actually received.
Recently, we have seen some lean years when we had to take mid-year cuts, but the House's proposed Amended FY 2012 Budget actually saw us add some dollars to increase the FY 2012 state budget to $18.5 billion.
I say "proposed" because this budget must also be approved by the Senate.
Despite this positive sign of economic recovery, the per capita spending in Georgia remains at a decade-old level.
In keeping with the main purpose of having the amended budget process of adjusting for education needs, the biggest adjustments to our current state budget were made in K-12 education funding.
The amended budget includes an additional $85.9 million for student growth and $7.7 million in supplemental grants for special charter schools.
The amended budget also includes $6.4 million in stipends for all qualifying math and science teachers, including the 939 teachers who earned the stipend but have not received it for the past two years because of a computer coding error.
The amended state budget also secures healthcare programs for children and the indigent. This includes $66.1 million in Medicaid and PeachCare funding, as well as $21.6 million in the Indigent Care Trust Fund.
Additionally, the amended budget restores the 1/2 percent provider rate cut that was reflected in the original FY 2012 budget passed last year.
Other noteworthy investments in the budget include restoring GBI agent positions and funding a fraud detection computer program for the Department of Revenue.
State revenue growth is only increasing at a modest rate, so the budget remains austere.
State agencies are still working to do more with less. In fact, the amended budget cuts funding for state agencies by about $110 million, making it even more important that funds are not tied up by unnecessary restrictions.
We discovered recently that GDOT had almost a billion dollars that they could not spend on needed road and bridge repairs. The federal government reimburses GDOT after the work is completed and the contractors have been paid. Sometimes the reimbursement occurs in the next fiscal year and becomes money not appropriated by the General Assembly.
As a result, the reimbursed funds sit in an account, untouchable and unusable - caught in bureaucratic limbo.
In an effort to simplify bureaucratic red tape, we passed House Bill 806, which frees up these prior year motor fuel funds.
HB 806 creates a Mandatory Appropriation Carryover Program, which allows up to 20 percent of prior year motor fuel dollars to be rolled over into the next fiscal year.
These funds are then authorized for use in GDOT's mission to provide an adequate system of public roads and bridges.
Like all legislation, HB 806 and the amended budget must still be considered by the state Senate. This means that these bills may change as we work alongside our Senate counterparts.
As this process continues, I will keep you updated on important legislation passed throughout each week, as well as any major changes the Senate may make to the budget.
This week, we tweaked the new House District maps so that Hall County's number of Representatives will change from seven to four.
This was something promised by the governor after the redistricting session last summer.
New House District 9 will lose the Yellow Creek area of Hall and pick up the Matt area of Forsyth County.
Several interesting questions came from constituents during Saturday's breakfast at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega.
One concerned five churches in Dawson County that have used the "devil's elbow" of the Amicalola River for more than 100 years to perform baptisms.
This is part of the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, and recently DNR has started charging a fee to help cover maintenance of designated WMAs.
DNR rangers are now ticketing any folks using wildlife management areas without a Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass. Holders of hunting and fishing licenses are exempt.
Other folks talked with me again about getting a referendum to allow package liquor stores in Lumpkin County.
Another voiced support for the governor's initiative for more drug, mental health and veterans' courts.
On Saturday mornings, Feb. 11 and 18 I will be at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega at 8 a.m. for my breakfast with constituents. On Feb. 25 I will be at Ryan's in Dawson County at 8:30 a.m.
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone (404) 657-8534; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.