(The Center Square) – As lawmakers meet Monday in Atlanta to start a new legislative session, Gov. Brian Kemp plans to give state employees a $5,000 raise in salaries and increase their benefits.

In each legislative period, two budgets are approved by the General Assembly. Lawmakers must review and approve spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year, also known as the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) budget, and approve the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Kemp urged state agencies in August not to propose spending increases for the next two years to guard against uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to state officials on Friday, Kemp said the state has recovered better than expected and is more flexible due to earlier cuts and a smaller government workforce.

“State government positions must remain competitive with other government positions to attract and retain a talented and skilled workforce,” Kemp said. “I’ve heard over and over again from all of you that government employees’ pay needs to be improved to reduce turnover and conserve the government resources needed to continually hire and train new employees.”

The governor’s spending plan would add the $5,000 increases for full-time employees to the 2022 budget and make a permanent $5,000 cost-of-living adjustment in fiscal 2023, which begins July 1. If the proposal becomes law, it will be the first adjustment to the cost of living for employees in Georgia in 14 years, Kemp said.

Kemp’s proposal would also increase the employer subsidy for 401(k) contributions to a maximum of 9% and allow workers to withdraw up to 40 hours of qualifying vacation pay per year.

Government employees hired on or after January 1, 2009 who are eligible for retirement benefits through the Employees’ Retirement System of the Georgia State Employees’ Pension and Savings Plan are automatically enrolled in the 401(k) plan at a pre-tax contribution rate of 5%. The state currently equals up to 3%.

According to the Georgia Department of Administrative Services, the state has more than 68,000 employees.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said Monday the House of Representatives will begin budget discussions next week. Republican lawmakers said they intend to push for more money for public safety and mental health.

The governor will announce all of his priorities during this annual state of the state address on Wednesday. Democrats are also expected to announce their legislative agenda on Wednesday.

Kemp had directed all state government agencies to cut spending by 4% during the revised fiscal 2020 budget process and by 10% in the fiscal 2021 budget. However, during the budget process for the amended fiscal year 2021, the state restored 60% of its education cuts.