Georgia lawmakers agree on pay raises in the upcoming budget, but must resolve differences by Thursday

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Senate passed a budget Tuesday that includes pay raises for public school teachers and state workers as well as increases in spending on education, health care and mental health.

Senators and representatives must now resolve their differences on House Bill 916 before the 2024 legislative session ends on Thursday. The budget, approved by a vote of 53-1, includes $36.1 billion in state funds for the year that begins July 1 and $61 billion in total.

According to Gov. Brian Kemp and lawmakers, spending would decline in this year's budget supplements this budget Billions will be provided in one-time cash, boosting government spending to $38 billion in 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 sent out by Kemp In December. Preschool teachers would also receive a $2,500 raise.

State and university employees would also receive a 4% raise, up to $70,000. The typical state employee earns $50,400.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Blake Tillery, a Republican from Vidalia, said those raises are “one of the big things we agree on.”

Some employees would get more. The state's law enforcement officers would also receive an additional $3,000 raise $6,000 special boost They got it last year. Child welfare workers would also receive additional raises of $3,000.

One thing that is unclear under the plan is salary increases for judges. The Senate budget includes nearly $20 million in funds that could be used to implement almost all of the measures plan to increase and standardize court salaries. But Tillery wants the plan included in a state constitutional amendment that has not yet advanced. The House of Representatives is still trying to implement the plan in a regular bill.

The state would spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to increase payments to nursing homes, home health providers, dialysis providers, physical and occupational therapists and some doctors.

The Senate proposes spending $30 million more on domestic violence shelters and sexual assault response. Tillery said the money would offset major cuts in federal funding that some agencies are facing.

While the House and Senate agree on some things, there are also significant differences. The Senate would spend $80 million more to increase pay for companies that provide in-home services for people with mental and physical disabilities.

The Senate would also increase the amount local school boards must pay for health insurance for uncertified employees such as custodians, cafeteria workers and secretaries. Tillery argues that it is fair to accelerate the implementation of higher premiums because the state is also pumping other money into education, including increasing the state's share of the purchase and operation of school buses by $205 million $104 million for school safety. The Senate would provide an additional $5 million for school safety to develop school safety plans.

Tillery said a key element in the final discussions will be the Kemp administration's push to not spend as much additional money on continuing programs and instead focus more on one-time spending. For example, this could jeopardize some of the rate increases that members of the House and Senate have proposed for medical and social service providers.

The state already plans to pay cash for new buildings and equipment in the coming budget instead of borrowing as usual, reflecting the billions in excess cash Georgia has built up in recent years. The Senate would go further and use $33 million that the House planned to spend elsewhere to pay down debt instead, which Tillery said would free up spending in coming years.

“Let’s find the bonds that have interest rates higher than what we make in our banks and let’s start paying them off early,” Tillery told senators.