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Rep. Taylor shares updates on Budget Week and 2020 Georgia legislative session

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, The General Assembly returned to the State Capitol for the second week of the 2020 legislative session.  This is traditionally the week the legislature hears the economic outlook and reviews the State Budget.  It is commonly referred to as “budget week.”

This week, we began the budget process, which is the most important responsibilities we have during any legislative session; we are constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year. Over the course of three days, the House and Senate Appropriations committees held a series of joint budget hearings, and Gov. Kemp presented his recommendations and priorities for the amended budget and upcoming 2021 fiscal year budget, which is set at $28.1 billion in total funding. Our second week under the Gold Dome was certainly busy as we worked to ensure that we efficiently allocate our state revenue to best serve the needs of all Georgians.

We started budget week on Tuesday by hearing from Gov. Kemp who presented his comprehensive budget proposals for the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY 2020) budget, which adjusts the current fiscal year’s budget to account for changes. Then, the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) budget, which is the budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1 and ends June 30 of the next calendar year is reviewed. 

Last fall, the governor instructed state agencies to identify opportunities to streamline operations and consolidate duplicative programs to reduce spending, and his proposals seek to accomplish those objectives. During his remarks at the joint budget hearings, the governor noted that several agencies have reported ways to cut spending by reducing administrative and overhead costs, leveraging technology and reorganizing behind-the-scenes operational systems. The governor also reflected on our state’s economy, and he commended us for creating a rock-solid foundation for businesses and families to thrive in Georgia. Gov. Kemp encouraged us to continue to build upon our state’s success by prioritizing our current financial resources and reducing unnecessary costs, while still delivering excellent service to our citizens.

In order to create a modern, work-ready labor force, we must build a solid educational foundation. Therefore, the governor’s budget recommendations include investing in Georgia’s teachers through a $2,000 permanent base salary increase in the AFY 2020 budget to retain and attract the best educators for our schools. In the FY 2021 budget, he recommends adding $81 million to the University and Technical College Systems to fully fund enrollment growth, as well as alleviate the need for student tuition increases. Gov. Kemp also includes an appropriation of nearly $56 million in additional lottery funds for the HOPE scholarship and grant programs to assist students with college expenses. We recognize the importance that education plays in preparing students for the workforce and these allocations would provide them with the skills they need to succeed personally and professionally.

Investing in our state’s infrastructure system is a crucial component of attracting new businesses and spurring future economic growth across our state. To ensure that businesses can quickly and reliably move goods through the state, Gov. Kemp proposes $51 million in FY 2021 to the Georgia Department of Transportation for roadway improvement and development, $50 million in obligation bonds to repair and replace bridges and $1.8 million for motor carrier officers to maintain safety on Georgia highways and protect our ports corridor along the coast. Georgia has been the top state to do business for seven straight years and investing in our state’s transportation systems will keep Georgia a business-friendly state.

Gov. Kemp’s budget proposals also reflect his ongoing commitment to protecting the safety of Georgia’s citizens and communities. More than 700,000 gang members have been identified in our state, and these gangs are responsible for increased drug activity, human trafficking and violence. Gov. Kemp seeks to combat this crisis by including a total of nearly $2 million in the AFY 2020 and FY 2021 budgets for seven new positions within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s (GBI) Gang Task Force, as well as resources to implement the statewide gang database. These new positions and the gang database will serve as a great resource for our law enforcement to better track, stop and dismantle gangs across the state.

The governor’s FY 2021 budget also allocates nearly $90 million to continue our efforts to increase access to affordable, quality health care for Georgians. This funding would support enrollment costs and expense growth for our Medicaid programs, specifically for the aging, blind and disabled populations. The governor’s AFY 2020 budget also includes $23 million for a state match for Disproportionate Share Hospital payments to ensure that certain hospitals that serve low-income patients can benefit from this program, and the state match funds would leverage $47 million in federal assistance to support hospitals across Georgia. Providing these additional resources would improve health care outcomes for all of Georgia’s citizens, especially some of our most vulnerable populations.

After hearing the governor’s comprehensive proposals, we also had the opportunity to hear from several constitutional officers, state agencies and departments regarding their respective budgetary needs, as well as the state fiscal economist who shared the state’s economic forecast for the current and upcoming fiscal years.  In order to adequately determine spending for each state agency, it is important to hear directly from our state leaders, agencies and departments heads during this process.  We will continue to work together as we prepare the final versions of the AFY 2020 and FY 2021 budget bills.

These are just some of the highlights that were discussed during budget week. The House Appropriations subcommittees will hold hearings to review these proposals and delve even further into the governor’s recommendations. These subcommittees will eventually pass portions of the state budget in their respective subcommittees, and those portions of the budget will then go before the full House Appropriations Committee, which will review and pass balanced budgets for AFY 2020 and FY 2021. From there, the budget bills will be considered by the House Rules Committee and scheduled for a vote on the House floor. Once the budget bills make their way to the House floor, members will have the chance to ask questions about the budget before voting. Once passed, the House will transmit each bill to our counterparts in the Senate, where they will review and pass both budget bills. 

I closed out the week with a visit from folks from home. I was happy to welcome members of the City Council and Administration from Thomasville.  Great to see them and follow up on several pending projects.  Additionally, I was able to correspond with several constituents from around the District on legislation they are interested in.  Glad to share that the bills have been filed and hearings are being scheduled.  This session is well underway and it is always a pleasure to see those from the District when they visit the Capitol.                      

My colleagues and I will return to the Gold Dome on Monday, January 27 for day five of the legislative session. Our work is cut out for us.  The budget will continue to be a major topic of discussion in the coming weeks, and our days will get busier as we consider legislation that will best serve you and your family. I encourage you to contact me with your input and thoughts on proposed legislation that may impact our community. Please visit my Capitol office, which is located in the Capitol, Suite 401-H,  the Capitol office telephone number is 404-656-7857, or reach me via email at darlene.taylor@house.ga.gov.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.