ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia Senate budget proposal would spend more on after-school care and domestic violence shelters, pay for every superior court judge in the state to hire a law clerk, and give more raises to state troopers.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously on Monday to pass a proposed $27.3 billion budget for the year starting July 1, putting back a fraction of the money that was cut last year. The full Senate could vote House Bill 81 this week, setting up final House-Senate negotiations before the document goes to Gov. Brian Kemp for his approval or veto.
Georgia is getting enough federal coronavirus relief money that it could restore all cuts, but the Senate spending plan acknowledges that the Republican Kemp, and not lawmakers, will decide how to spend the more than $4.6 billion.
Senators are asking the governor to aid people and businesses hurt by the pandemic, provide extra pay to essential workers, and to improve water, sewer and internet facilities, in addition to offsetting revenue reductions.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery, a Vidalia Republican, said that state revenues did better than lawmakers believed they would when they wrote the current year's budget. But he said the federal largesse won't last.
“While this budget recognized that state finances have outperformed pandemic expectations, I need to also tell you that there’s a lot of uncertainty on the horizon," Tillery said. "We know that federal funds, while they’re coming in now ... we do not expect them to continue forever. They’re one-time funds.”
The state would spend $27.3 billion in state tax money, plus billions more from the federal government, fees and tuition. That’s up from $26.6 billion in state money this year.
A majority of cuts to K-12 education would be restored. But most other cuts would stay, with total spending still below what lawmakers had originally planned for this year.
Because the House and Senate can't spend more than the amount of revenue that Kemp sets in a formal estimate, much of their budget writing consists of cutting things they disagree with and moving the money to more-favored priorities.
For example, the Senate proposes cutting rural hospital stabilization grants from $15 million to $3 million and overhauling the grant process.
The Senate would spend $4.7 million to increase after-school care, and $6.7 million to create a therapeutic foster care program. It would cut some raises for assistant district attorneys, instead telling prosecutors to use existing funds, but spend $2.35 million more on law clerks.
The Senate kept pay raises for bank examiners, medical examiners, food inspectors and driver license office employees.
Continuing the House's emphasis on adding money for mental health, the Senate would add $1.6 million for respite care for caretakers of adult developmentally disabled people and add $1 million for mental health care by videoconference.
The Senate would spend nearly $1 million more on domestic violence and sexual assault centers, with Tillery saying those operations are facing a funding crunch.
The budget would restore Kemp's proposal to spend $3.1 million for a 75-person state trooper school and add about $1.3 million to create incentive payments when troopers earn certain degrees, on top of the additional pay the House inserted to create new higher-paid trooper ranks.
The Senate would cut some funds from general instruction at state universities and instead earmark $2 million for technology development programs, nearly $1 million for a program to teach computer coding at rural schools, and $2.5 million to create an aviation career program at Middle Georgia State University
The House and Senate are agreeing to some key Kemp initiatives, including plans to spend $40 million on a rural innovation fund and $10 million to extend high-speed internet in rural areas.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.