Georgia lawmakers have reached a final agreement on changes to this year’s state budget, setting the stage for final votes in the House and Senate on Monday’s spending plan.
House Bill 18 increases spending by $2.4 billion after Republican Gov. Brian Kemp increased projected revenue.
It includes $950 million in property tax rebates for homeowners and would divert $1.1 billion in state revenue to the Department of Transportation to offset fuel tax revenue that the state failed to collect while gasoline and diesel taxes were suspended.
Fuel tax replenishment and income tax refunds are being pushed forward in separate bills that still require Senate action.
Taxpayers would receive between $250 and $500 in income tax refunds under House Bill 162. No one can get back more than they paid in state income taxes in 2021. Kemp says with homestead exemptions, taxpayers would get about $500 from the state.
The governor is now calling for $32.6 billion in state taxpayer money to be spent in the budget ending June 30, a 7.3% increase from last year’s original projections. Including federal and other funds, total spending would rise to $61.6 billion.
The agreement would spend $26.7 million in one-time awards of $500 for 54,000 retirees on the State Workers’ Pension Scheme. These retirees have not seen regular increases in the cost of living, although they did see a 1.5% increase in July. The typical ERS retiree receives a pension of about $2,000 per month.
Representatives and senators agreed to give the State Health Benefit Plan an additional $50 million to extend a two-year health insurance premium increase for non-teaching school district employees. The health plan had proposed increasing premiums by 67% in January 2024, increasing the amount charged per employee per month from $945 to $1,580 for a total increase of an estimated $457 million per year.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery, a Vidalia Republican, said the rate will increase by half in January 2024 and then by the remainder in 2025. Tillery said he wanted to ensure that in the future, bonuses for cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and teaching assistants would match what the state pays for teachers.
The state plans to spend $846 million a year to cover increases in insurance premiums for certified employees, including teachers. The premiums that employees pay directly would not change.
Senators approved a House plan to spend $115.7 million on school safety grants, or $50,000 per school. Lawmakers disagreed with Kemp’s plan to spend $25 million on learning loss grants to improve student achievement and omitted that money.