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Battle over the state budget begins
Hitchens Bill
Rep. Bill Hitchens

The activity in the second week of the Georgia General Assembly was limited to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees meeting in joint conference to receive the governor’s $21.8 billion budget request.

As determined by the state constitution, after reviewing this version, both the House and Senate must agree on a budget that can be presented for the governor’s signature. From there, the governor has the authority to line-item issues with which he does not concur.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I was present for the joint conference as various state agencies registered their budget requests and answered our questions. I will also carefully examine the budget for any insertions that may affect our district. This is a crucial component of the process so that we can make informed, responsible decisions regarding your tax dollars and the needs of our state.

Georgia, and in particularly our district, which is the third-fastest-growing in population in the state, are incredibly well-positioned to continue as a national leader in job creation, as well as wage, income, and population growth.

Many national and international businesses are relocating to our beautiful and diverse state, adding to our economic development. In fact, Georgia has the No. 1 workforce in the nation. However, this growth also means more children and administrators in our school system and therefore the need for additional necessities such as classroom space and technological advancements.

Growth in our state also places further demands on our health care costs. All of these issues must be carefully measured as we determine what is best for our state moving forward.

The bulk of the state budget funds K-12 education and healthcare costs, as mandated by the federal government. With a 1.35 percent increase in school enrollment this year, the governor has asked for almost $240 million to cover growth. Currently, there are nearly 2 million students and more than 100,000 teachers and administrators learning and working within our public school system.

The governor is also asking for $230 million for the construction, renovation and equipping of K-12 schools, along with $35 million to expand the broadband internet system to enhance instruction and learning.

Regarding higher education, the governor has also asked for a 3 percent increase in HOPE scholarships and grants.

The one significant controversial issue that has arisen in the governor’s budget proposal is to curtail providing health insurance for “part-time” school cafeteria workers and school bus drivers. They are considered part-time employees because they typically work less than 30 hours a week. Other state employees who work less than 30 hours do not receive health insurance benefits, which includes a large number of Department of Natural Resources’ employees. The estimated savings would be $135 million per year.

However, my limited knowledge of the situation is that many of the school bus drivers and cafeteria workers through the years were farmers, small business owners or their spouses, who took those jobs primarily for the opportunity to have health insurance that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. If the health insurance benefit goes away, my guess is that so will many of the school bus drivers and cafeteria workers that are an often overlooked, but very essential element of our public school system.

As I mentioned earlier, the second largest expenditure in the state’s budget is health care. This includes a requested $42 million to our expanded baseline on health care mandates, mainly from growth.

Another $54 million is requested for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. Gov. Deal also has asked for nearly $9 million to reimburse nursing home costs.

Other highlights include $35 million for child welfare services, including $7.5 million for 175 new case workers to handle child abuse cases. Concerning transportation, the governor has allocated an additional $17 million for road and bridge projects. Regarding state employees, $27 million is dedicated toward performance incentives and another $10 million for the Board of Regents to recruit and retain qualified staff for our state’s universities and colleges.

This week the entire General Assembly has returned to Atlanta to begin the business of the state. As we move forward with the budget process, please know that I am always available to listen to your thoughts and concerns.

I can be reached at (404) 656-0178 or at Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative!