Georgia House Votes on $32.5B Spending Plan for 2024, Adds Millions for Law Enforcement

House lawmakers Thursday will vote on a spending plan for next year that includes additional pay rises for hard-to-fill state jobs and more money for law enforcement and behavioral health services.

The proposed $32.5 billion budget cleared the committee’s hurdle on Wednesday and is due to be presented before the plenary on Thursday. From there it goes to the Senate, where lawmakers will tackle their own amendments. The 2023 session ends later this month.

“Our work is not done yet. We know there are some priorities that need additional funding, particularly in the areas of behavioral health and law enforcement,” said MP Matt Hatchett, a Dublin Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Government revenue has been rising in Georgia but that is expected to slow, leaving budget writers in a cautious stance heading into the new fiscal year, which begins in July. The governor also sets the total spending limit, meaning lawmakers can only move money around the budget.

“We have looked at many needs and unfortunately we cannot meet them all. But I look forward to working with the governor and the Senate on other ways to fund it,” Hatchett said.

Lawmakers have earmarked $1.3 million for a Georgia State Patrol satellite post in Buckhead, where a motion to secede from the city of Atlanta was rejected in the state Senate last week after the Kemp administration cast doubts on the constitutionality of the proposal commented on the formation of the city.

“At every level in Georgia, we are demonstrating that we will not tolerate crime or street gangs,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement announcing the new site.

Lawmakers also added another $2,000 pay rise for law enforcement — in addition to Kemp’s proposed $2,000 increase for officers and other state employees — and another $2.7 million for a new special cold unit Cases within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The GBI is also scheduled to receive an additional $1.5 million to bolster staff in its forensic services department to clear a backlog processing evidence such as toxicology, and $2.5 million to hire sexual assault examiners at the 28 centers statewide.

House budgeters also included significant funding increases for the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, increasing spending on crisis beds and spending an additional $10.1 million to increase wages for workers in state psychiatric hospitals.

An additional $1.9 million will go toward a housing program required under the federal settlement, and an additional $2.3 million has been reallocated to improve services needed to support the rollout of 9-8 8, the national suicide prevention hotline.

The new version of the budget now also includes funding for a total of 375 additional people with disabilities to receive services through a Medicaid program at a cost of approximately $8 million. That’s 125 more spots than the governor’s proposed budget, but a far cry from the 2,400 recommended by a bipartisan Senate study committee last year.

“Very respectful, I want you to know that 2,400 was the number requested. That would cost $66 million. At this point, we will continue to work on it with this addition of ($8 million),” said Rep. Katie Dempsey, a Republican from Rome who chairs the subcommittee overseeing this section of the budget.

Efforts to clear the waiting list of 7,000 people for services have been complicated by a labor shortage for caregivers who help people with disabilities.

A review of wage rates for these workers showed that it would cost the state about $91 million to increase workers’ wages from $10.63 to $15.18 — which providers say it always does not enough to compete with fast food chains and retailers.

This tariff study is still in progress at state level and will then have to be approved by the federal government. Meanwhile, lawmakers have created a budget line for the funds needed to increase those wages, but have not yet set aside any money.

“We also recognize the need to fund the Vendor Rate Study and look forward to working with the Governor and Senate to develop a plan and funding for implementation,” said Hatchett.

Some other notable changes:

About $1.4 million would be used to provide dental care to adults through Medicaid. Today only emergency dental services are offered.

The state Department of Agriculture would receive approximately $550,000 for two compliance specialist, equipment and vehicle positions to increase enforcement of state soil improvement regulations. Local officials and residents in northeast Georgia say mud is being passed off as a soil conditioner, making life in some rural communities unbearable.

The governor’s proposal to fund 100% public Hope grants was reverted to 95% in the House proposal. That allowed lawmakers to increase Hope grants for students attending private institutions, Hatchett said.

This story was provided by WABE content partner Georgia Recorder.