Governor Brian Kemp delivered the following address as he signed the State of Georgia’s FY2021 Budget on Tuesday:
“Six months ago, we gathered under this Gold Dome to kick off the 2020 Legislative Session. Excitement was high, and the expectations were even higher. Little did we know, the unthinkable was right around the corner. COVID-19 put our plans and progress on pause as it spread across the world, threatening the lives of Georgians far and wide. In its wake, this deadly virus spurred an economic recession, impacting every industry in every corner of our great state.
“To be honest, today is bittersweet. Yes, this budget reflects our values as a state. It funds core services and protects the vital mission of our state agencies. This budget prioritizes education, healthcare, and public safety. It puts people over politics and helps ensure a safer, stronger tomorrow for all Georgians. But this budget speaks to some of the hard choices made by state leaders to streamline and innovate. While we were able to avoid draconian cuts, getting this budget to balance was hard. These are challenging times, and the budget reflects that reality.
“While much has changed over the last several months, my priorities as Georgia’s governor have remained the same. With the closing of schools, Georgia families have a renewed appreciation for our teachers, counselors, specialists, and staff. These men and women are unsung heroes, and we appreciate their efforts during the pandemic to adapt, educate, and inspire students in every part of our state. To keep Georgia moving in the right direction and minimize the long-term impact of COVID-19 on our classrooms, this budget fully funds enrollment growth and training for public school education. It recognizes a 7.8% increase in enrollment at state charter schools, and this budget provides $55 million in additional lottery funds for the HOPE Scholarship to meet projected demand. With 53% of the 2021 budget dedicated to education, we continue to put students first.
“The pandemic has targeted the most vulnerable populations in our state, highlighting the healthcare disparities that exist. Now, more than ever, we see that access to quality, affordable healthcare – in every zip code – is essential and lifesaving. This budget fully funds projected growth in Medicaid and Peach Care, which is nearly $270 million. It also includes $19 million in new funding to offer six months of postpartum Medicaid coverage for Georgia mothers, effective upon approval by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. These big investments with help us enhance health outcomes. This budget will ensure a healthier tomorrow for all Georgians.
“Finally, we know that Georgia’s potential as a state is directly tied to public safety. Our future hinges on the safety and security of our citizens. During this healthcare crisis, we have seen law enforcement officers play a vital role in the fight against COVID-19. Moving forward, we must continue to support efforts to crack down on sex trafficking, dismantle street gangs, protect communities from violence, and pursue justice. We must stand with law enforcement now – just like they stood with us during our most difficult days. In this budget, we have included resources to expand the GBI Gang Task Force, fund a 50-person trooper school, and support personal services and operating expenses for motor carrier officers in the Ports Corridor. These public safety dollars will pay huge dividends as we emerge from this healthcare and economic crisis. We will keep our neighborhoods, communities, and families safe and secure.
“The fundamentals of our economy remain strong, and I have incredible confidence in job creators across all sectors. As these men and women lead Georgia’s economic revival, we will do our part to leverage opportunities for economic stimulus through our capital spending programs. This budget includes a $1.1 billion bond package that will spur growth and opportunity through numerous construction activities. $340 million of the total package is for major repairs and renovations of state-owned facilities and transportation infrastructure. There’s $70 million in bond funds for the expansion of the convention center at the Savannah-Georgia Convention Center Authority, $12 million in bond funds for facility repairs and improvements at the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, and $115 million in bond funds for the repair, replacement, and renovation of roads and bridges statewide through the Georgia Department of Transportation. This bond package will Georgia regain its competitive advantage. We will not let coronavirus undermine our progress.
“The legislature has but one constitutional requirement, and that’s to pass a balanced budget. I want to commend Chairman England, Chairman Tillery, their colleagues, and staff for working so hard to fulfill their duty, even during these unprecedented times. I also want to pause and thank Georgia’s 82nd Governor, Nathan Deal, for his bold leadership and conservative planning. Thanks to the resources that he allocated to the Rainy-Day Fund, we are able to balance the budget without furloughs to state employees. We are grateful for his wisdom and service. Finally, I want to thank President Trump, Vice President Pence, and our congressional delegation for securing funds for Georgia through the CARES Act. These resources will help state and local governments minimize the impact of COVID-19 on those we are honored to serve.
“In the fight against coronavirus, we are seeing encouraging signs. The case fatality rate continues to decline as testing nears one million. Our hospitals have surge capacity, and thanks to GEMA, we are providing PPE to people and places that need it most. On the economic side, we are seeing positive momentum. Businesses are slowly – and safely – reopening, and several companies have announced relocation projects and expansions in the Peach State. But look, we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still more work to be done to protect the lives – and livelihoods – of all Georgians. We have to remain vigilant in the days ahead. We have to hunker down and keep choppin’. I am confident that if we continue to work together, we will see better days. I know that we can build a safer, stronger, healthier, and more prosperous Georgia for generations to come. Again, thank you to Chairman England, Chairman Tillery, and those who are gathered here today. May God bless you and the great state of Georgia!”