Georgia House of Representatives increases budget with pay raises for teachers, state workers – WABE

Pay raises for Georgia public school teachers and state employees took a step forward Tuesday when the House Budget Committee approved a spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The budget would spend $36.1 billion in state funds and $66.5 billion total, including federal and other funds. The full House of Representatives will vote on the measure on Thursday, followed by debate in the Senate.

In fact, spending would decline after lawmakers amended this year's budget and significantly increased spending. After Gov. Brian Kemp signed the amended spending plan last week, Georgia will have spent $38 billion in state revenue and $68 billion in total spending for the year ending June 30.

Public school teachers would get a $2,500 raise starting July 1, pushing the average teacher salary in Georgia to more than $65,000 a year, the Republican governor proposed in January. This is in addition to a $1,000 bonus Kemp sent out in December, a move that lawmakers ratified when amending the current budget. State and university employees would also receive a 4% raise, up to $70,000. The typical state employee earns $50,400.

Combined, that's more than $600 million in raises. During Kemp's first five years in office, teachers have already received $7,000 raises.

Some employees would be singled out for more. State police officers would receive an additional $3,000 raise, on top of the special $6,000 raise they received last year. Child welfare workers would also receive an additional $3,000 raise.

Many judges would also receive a raise under the plan. The House is proposing to spend more than $10 million to implement half of a plan to increase and standardize judicial pay. House Budget Committee Chairman Matt Hatchett said the second half would happen next year. The plan would tie the judges' top salaries to the salaries of federal judges in Atlanta. State Supreme Court justices' salaries could rise from $186,000 to more than $223,000, while appeals court judges' salaries could rise to $212,000 from the current $185,000.

Currently, chief justices earn between $154,000 and $222,000 per year, based on the varying amounts contributed by counties across Georgia's 50 judicial districts. Under the proposed system, the state would pay chief judges up to $201,000, while counties could add a 10% local supplement, bringing the total compensation to $221,000.

Since the Legislature cannot spend beyond Kemp's revenue estimate, it can only cut or reorder the governor's proposed spending. In this case, the House cut money from sources such as debt service and construction projects that it had funded in the amended budget to propose increased spending on health care, mental health care and assistance for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The state would spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to increase payments to nursing homes, people who provide home health care, dialysis providers, physical and occupational therapists and some doctors. Most of the increases were proposed by Kemp, but some were added by the House.

Committee Chairman Hatchett said rate increases are needed to keep reimbursements “where our providers will continue to provide the service.”

Adults covered by Georgia's Medicaid program would have basic dental care covered for the first time at a cost of $9 million in state money, or $28 million when federal money is included.

The House proposed spending $21 million more on domestic violence shelters and sexual assault response. Some of these agencies are facing significant reductions in their federal funding. Hatchett said the money does not directly offset federal funding, but rather requires the state to pay for the services it mandates.

“We're trying to make sure we give them the money they need to do what we ask them to do,” he said.

House Democrats would spend $6.33 million to provide free breakfast and lunch in public schools for children who currently pay reduced prices but are not considered poor enough to qualify for free meals.

The budget also confirms Kemp's plan to spend $104 million on school safety and $205 million to increase the state's share of purchasing and operating school buses. Representatives are also backing a plan to reverse a longstanding budget cut to the Department of Early Care and Learning and reduce preschool class sizes back to 20 children after 22 years.