The legislative work of the 2013 Georgia General Assembly continued, even though the House and Senate were officially in recess last week. The process started Jan. 22 with a week’s worth of joint appropriations committee meetings.
Gov. Deal led the presentations by detailing the major highlights of his budget proposals. The governor was then followed by the leaders of our state agencies, each of whom explained their agency’s budget and answered questions from House and Senate members.
In his budget remarks, Gov. Deal provided us with positive news. With increased funds available for education, the governor recommends we expand our pre-K program by 10 days, which will advance early learning and increase salaries for pre-K teachers. The governor also recommends fully funding enrollment growth for K-12 schools through the Quality Basic Education funding formula, and providing $147 million for salary increases for teachers based on training and experience in FY 2014.
Additionally, Gov. Deal designates $1.6 million to continue the reading mentor program, and $41 million to new funding for the Quality Basic Education Equalization program.
To support our state’s higher education investments, the governor chose to designate specific funding to increase HOPE awards, and to establish a new HOPE grant program: the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant. This grant will provide additional financial assistance above what is covered by the traditional HOPE Grant for students in our Technical College System pursuing a high-demand certificate or diploma program. Gov. Deal has also allotted $84.6 million for the Board of Regents to fund growth within our colleges and universities, and $185 million to construct and equip new higher education facilities.
Because health care is the largest cost driver in recent budgets, growth in Medicaid expenses will require an additional $246 million in both FY 2013 and FY 2014. In order to defray these growth requirements, the governor has worked closely with the Department of Community Health to identify areas where we can save money. The governor also proposed an additional $35 million for mental health and developmentally disabled consumer services.
Despite a continued need for additional budget cuts, there is good news to be reported about the state of our economy. Georgia now has $378 million in the revenue shortfall reserve, more commonly known as the rainy day fund. With our economy slowly improving, the state has been able to start rebuilding this fund to ensure that Georgia is prepared for future challenges. According to testimony by state fiscal economist Dr. Kenneth Heaghney, economic indicators point toward slow but steady growth over the next fiscal year, with jobs and the housing market steadily improving.
I welcome you to visit me at the Capitol during this legislative session. You can also reach out to me with your questions or concerns by calling my office at (404) 656-5099 or email me at email@example.com. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.