Georgia House Holds Two Grant Levels In $32.4 Billion Budget – WABE

The Georgia House of Representatives approves a budget for next year that provides pay rises while emphasizing spending priorities in public safety and mental health.

The House of Representatives on Thursday voted 167 to 1 in favor of House Bill 19, sending the 2024 spending plan to the Senate for further debate. After the Senate has its say, lawmakers must reach an agreement before the General Assembly wraps up its annual session later this month.

“We know there are some priorities that need additional funding, particularly in the area of ​​behavioral health,” House Budget Committee Chairman Matt Hatchett, a Dublin Republican, told members of the House of Representatives. “We will continue to work with our Senate partners and with the governor to maintain this momentum and build on the items funded in this budget.”

The House of Representatives backed Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to give state employees a $2,000 pay rise. However, it voted to double the pay rise for state law enforcement officers, increasing their pay by $4,000.

Some Democrats opposed the House plan to keep the current two-tier system of lottery-funded HOPE grants. Kemp has proposed returning to the original HOPE scholarship system and paying full tuition to all high school graduates who achieve a B average. Instead, the House of Representatives voted to pay full tuition only for Zell-Miller grantees, requiring higher grades and a standardized minimum test score from students. Other HOPE recipients would receive 95% of the tuition, up from 90% now.

Rep. Stacey Evans, an Atlanta Democrat, said the lottery has enough money to pay the full freight for all qualifiers.

“All HOPE grantees across the state are 100% worth of our investment if we can afford it, not just those with a SAT of 1,200,” Evans said, referring to the standardized testing requirements for Zell Miller grantees.

However, Republicans argued that Georgia should give greater rewards to top-performing students.

“Students who have committed to the Zell Scholarship deserve recognition for their hard work and higher pay,” said Hatchett.

The budget also emphasizes paying higher reimbursement rates to health care providers and expanding opportunities to train new health workers. Hatchett said the House budget would spend $51 million more on the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Georgia’s top mental health agency.

The budget would spend $32.4 billion in government funds in 2024 beginning July 1. With federal and other money, the state would spend more than $61 billion. Both numbers are down slightly compared to this year. The state ended last year with a $6.6 billion cash surplus, but Kemp hasn’t revealed plans to spend most of it.

Georgia’s budget is sufficient to educate 1.75 million K-12 students and 465,000 college students, house 48,000 state detainees, expand 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers) of highways and care for more than 200,000 people who are mentally are ill, developmentally disabled, or addicted to drugs or alcohol .

All state and university employees, as well as public school teachers, would receive a $2,000 pay rise, as Kemp had proposed. But Republicans argue that the state needs to increase the salaries of state police officers and other officials by another $13 million to compete with offers from cities, counties and neighboring states.

The state would also give additional pay rises to Forest Service employees and drivers’ license issuing employees.

“State government jobs have always been paid less than the private sector, and in an economy where every company is struggling to find staff, it has become even more difficult for government agencies to fill and retain jobs,” Hatchett said.

In a further acknowledgment of inflation, the House of Representatives wants to again award $500 in bonuses to 54,000 retirees in the State Workers’ Pension Scheme, as lawmakers first approved this year. Retirees in this plan did not receive periodic cost-of-living increases.

Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jeffamy.