Last week the Georgia General Assembly was recessed in observance of the holy holidays of Easter and Passover. I hope this was a time of rest and reflection for families across the state, as many schools also recessed for spring break. We are all so blessed to live in a country that not only allows religious freedom, but supports setting aside time away from work and school to express and celebrate our faith and beliefs.
As I thought about the meaning of this time, and looked out my window and observed the initial burst of spring color and splendor, my thoughts could not help but turn to the many things we are working on in the legislature, and how we are truly working for the good of the people we represent in an effort to better the lives of all Georgians. As you know, this is not an easy task and there are many outstanding issues that we face this week.
The biggest issues that we face when we reconvene are the issue of the Fiscal Year 2007 mid-year budget and the Fiscal Year 2008 budget. The FY 2007 mid-year budget is a reconciliation budget to move more funds to where shortfalls occur. This usually occurs in the areas of education spending and Medicaid spending. Both are required by federal law and due to an increasingly growing population base in our state, we usually have to allocate additional funds to the various required spending programs. We also use the budget to help fund emergency issues such as the shortfall in PeachCare funding and relief help for the tornado-ravaged Americus area.
We have passed our version of the mid-year budget and have sent it to the Senate for their approval or modifications.
The FY 2008 Budget or what we call “the big budget” each year is currently being vetted by the House and Senate Appropriations Committee. Much of the funding requests come from the governor’s budget with education as one of the biggest programs that we are required to fund. The governor has requested $152.5 million in funds for the Quality Based Education formula to recognize a 2.65 percent enrollment growth in our schools. He also requested $417 million in bonds to build more schools. There was a line item of $178 million for teacher pay raises, keeping Georgia’s teachers the best paid in the Southeast. That is a 3 percent pay raise across the board for teachers beginning Sept. 1. He also requested $89.5 million for step increases, with an additional 3 percent pay raise for our best teachers. It also included an additional $228 million for construction at higher education facilities.
Health care is the other big spending program with much of the spending dedicated to federally-mandated programs. The state budget for state employees’ health care is $176 million with an additional $100 million set aside to help fund state employee retirements. The budget also requested an earmark of $16 million to fully fund the purchase of antiviral medications to treat a pandemic flu and $9 million for additional operating costs at state hospitals.
To help spur economic development which in turn creates jobs, the governor has set aside $40.5 million for the West Point Development Authority to be used on expenses for the new Kia car assembly plant in West Georgia. His budget also seeks to expand the state’s overseas marketing budget by 135 percent by investing $1.5 million in marketing initiatives.
Last Tuesday we welcomed Dr. Carol Couch, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency in Georgia (EPD), to our district. She met with some of our city and county officials to discuss environmental matters. Commissioner of the Department of Transportation, Harold Linnenkohl, flew into the Screven County Airport on Thursday to meet with leaders of several cities and counties in District 157 to discuss transportation issues. These recent visits confirm the commitment from state leaders to help solve the problems in our area of the state.
As always, please feel free to contact me at (404) 273-1340 or by email at email@example.com.