By: Sen. Larry Walker (R – Perry)
The second session of the 156th Georgia General Assembly officially convened on January 10, 2022, kicking off our annual 40-Day term to pass legislation that improves the lives and livelihoods of all in our state. While the first week of a session can occasionally be occupied by ceremonial motions, I am pleased to say the groundwork appears to already be laid for a productive and fruitful term. During first our two weeks, Governor Brian Kemp delivered his fourth annual State of the State Address and we held in-depth hearings from Georgia’s various agencies and departments on their budgetary needs for the fiscal year.
Last week, during his State of the State Address, Gov. Kemp previewed his legislative and budgetary priorities for the session. While the budget process has been difficult over the past few years as a result of the state-wide economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial picture this year appears greatly improved. The Governor’s proposed budget totals over $30 billion, with several billion in surplus that we intend to pass back on to Georgians. Specifically, $1.6 billion has been proposed to provide income tax refunds to taxpayers, with $250 allocated to single filers and $500 for those who file jointly. In addition, the budget accounts for $5,000 raises for state employees to reward them for their service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as incentivize others to consider careers in public service. The reason we are in a much stronger economic position today than we anticipated last year can largely be attributed to the responsible, conservative leadership that has guided our state through these turbulent economic times, as well as the steadfast resilience of Georgia’s workforce and small-business owners.
Other important highlights from the budget proposal include $15 million for the Indigent Care Trust Fund to assist in financially stabilizing our state’s rural hospitals. In addition, the budget proposal emphasizes state-wide public safety initiatives with $1.6 million allocated for the Department of Law to create a gang prosecution unit and expand our existing human trafficking unit. Also included were $3 million for additional trooper school cadets. An additional $7 million has been proposed for medical and forensic services at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to help expedite the backlog of criminal cases and ensure that justice can be served as quickly as possible.
This week, much of the General Assembly’s time has been devoted to Joint Hearings of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees. “Budget Week”, as we call it, is a time for the heads of Georgia’s state agencies and departments to present their budget requests to the General Assembly for review. These hearings are often long, but are critical in ensuring that your taxpayer dollars are spent as responsibly as possible. The next step in the budget process will be for the Georgia House of Representatives to craft the first version of the Amended Budget for the 2022 Fiscal Year (AFY22), which will then be sent over to the Senate for review. Once the AFY22 budget is passed, we will then turn our attention to the 2023 Fiscal Year budget.
We will reconvene Monday, January 24th, in the Senate Chamber and the pace of committee activity will greatly accelerate. Committees will begin in earnest reviewing and debating proposed legislation, bills carried over from last session and new legislation recently introduced. If you have any questions or concerns related to the budget or any potential legislation that my come up this year, please do not hesitate to contact my office. I am here to serve you.