The following is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.
After observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the beginning of the week, the Senate returned to the Capitol this Tuesday for joint budget hearings. This starts the appropriations process as we work to pass a balanced and fiscally responsible budget. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I heard from Governor Brian P. Kemp and various state department heads in regards to their proposals for the $26.9 billion Amended Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) budget and the $27.5 billion Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) budget.
The funding for the proposed Amended FY19 Budget is derived from approximately 3.3 percent state fund growth and a 4.1 percent increase in Department of Revenue Collections. In it are specific allotments, including $3.5 million for audio and film grants for rural schools and $92 million for schools across Georgia to fund the Quality Basic Education Formula, which helps provide schools with the money they need to fully fund student education. This puts the amended FY19 budget about $243 million over the general FY19 budget. Additionally, here are a few other amended FY19 budgetary items:
- Adds $2.9 million in funding for the HOPE Scholarship
- Adds $104.9 million ($71 million of which is federal funding) to Medicaid
- Adds $751,000 for equipment for the GBI’s Cyber Security Unit
The proposed FY20 General Budget includes $1 million in funding for state flood control structure improvements. As most of our district is in a floodplain, this is an important allotment to help protect our homes. One hundred million dollars are proposed for the repair of roads and bridges, which builds on the vast improvements the Georgia Department of Transportation is trying to make currently. I know there are several bridges in our area that have been upgraded and several more in need of repair, so this allocation is needed and welcome. Additionally, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurray spoke about a recent study that encourages funding for highways across the nation instead of funding for our interstates. Though we have a major interstate running through our district, it is good to know that the roads we use most often will receive attention in the near future.
I am glad to report that the Governor has proposed a $3 million Bond Package for the Coastal Pines Technical College campus in Kingsland to provide them new equipment. This allocation is vital for campus growth and will help provide students with the best education possible. I believe a strong technical college education is one of the most important ways we can invest in our youth. Once these students graduate, they work in nearly every sector and industry in our state.
Your taxpayer dollars are funding some vitally important programs in Georgia. However, one area of state obligation that I believe has been overlooked too often is the need to ensure that our retired state employees receive what has been promised to them, which is their yearly cost of living increase (COLA). During the economic downturn, the State of Georgia did not fulfill this obligation for over 6 years. It is time that we reinstate the COLA and make up some of the difference that is outstanding. I have already sent a letter to the chairman of that committee, the Governor, and the Retirement Board to request the COLA. Of course, I am always looking to discover where funds could be saved and how we can reduce burdensome taxes to allow you to keep more of your hard earned dollars, but the state should not renege on its financial obligations.
Thank you, as always, for the opportunity to serve you. I hope if you have any questions or concerns about legislation, you will let me know. My door and phone lines are always open, and I am more than happy to hear your ideas.