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Shoring up rural hospitals
Hill Jack
Sen. Jack Hill

Of all of the bills that were voted on during a frenetic 40th day of the 2016 General Assembly, the one that could conceivably affect rural health care the most was the passage of the Conference Committee Report on SB 258, which became the vehicle for the HB 919, “Rural Healthcare Tax Credit.”

Starting Jan. 1, 2017, the final bill would allow Georgia taxpayers, individuals and corporate payers to designate 70 percent of their Georgia income tax liability to a rural hospital. Individuals are capped at $2,500 per year tax credit or married couples filing jointly, $5,000 maximum credit or 70 percent, whichever is less.

Hospitals would be capped at the $4 million level in contributions. The state cap on tax credits would be $50 million in 2017, $60 million in 2018 and $70 million in 2019. The first six months of the year, individuals and corporate taxpayers are capped at $2 million to insure individuals have a chance to participate. In the second six months, applications for preapproval will be on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Department of Community Health will submit a list of eligible hospitals to the Department of Revenue on Dec. 1 of each year so that taxpayers may choose the hospital recipient. If and when that hospital reaches the $4 million cap, a tax payer may divert part or all of their contribution to other rural hospitals on the list. The rural hospital is to report annually to DCH the contributions it has received and the services and care it has dispensed with the funds.

The plan has a sunset of three years after which the entire program will be reevaluated and would have to be renewed by the Legislature to be continued. Rural hospitals have to be classified as a “Critical Access” hospital by the Department of Community Health and serve a rural area or be located in a county of 35,000. Other qualifications include accepting Medicaid and Medicare, providing indigent care totaling at least 10 percent of its annual net revenue and being operated by a county or municipal authority. A current audit must also be available. An additional requirement is a five-year financial plan that will be submitted to the Department of Community Health.

GATE legislation fails

HB 911, a bill that would have changed provisions of the Agricultural Sales Tax Free card, or GATE card, failed to pass in the waning hours of the session. However, included in the FY17 budget was $200,000 appropriated to the Department of Agriculture, which will hire part-time “inspectors” who will travel the state paying compliance visits to retailers and customers to reinforce use and record-keeping policies.

FY17 budget passes—new funds for transportation, raises

The state funds budget that will operate the state for the next fiscal year was passed on Day 39 by both houses and totals $24.7 billion. It includes new transportation appropriations of $655 million, most of which resulted from the change in the gasoline tax under HB 170 in 2015.

The total also includes a transfer of about $180 million from the treasury for the “fourth” penny sales tax on fuel that will now go to transportation as well.

Additionally, $157 million collected from hotel/motel fees and highway impact fees also will go to transportation. In the bond package, $100 million was included for the second year of a three year commitment to repair bridges repair around the state.

The 2017 budget includes pay or COLA raises totaling 3 percent for teachers, school bus drivers, school nutrition employees and school nurses, as well as 3 percent for state employees.

There are also additional raises above 3 percent for high turnover classes of state employees, including an additional 6 percent for public health nurses, an additional 7 percent for correctional officers, and additional 3 percent for state troopers, DNR rangers and GBI agents.

Over the next weeks, we will analyze the various areas of state government, look at bills passed and budget items and how they affect the state’s service to citizens.

Visitors to Capitol recently

This week a group of students from the Metter High School debate team and Leadership Candler County visited and had a tour of the Capitol and photos made. A lively discussion on political and governmental issues followed that I enjoyed.

Georgia Southern projects in the 2017 budget

Included in the FY17 budget passed this week are two bonded projects for Georgia Southern University:

• $4.87 million for design, construction, and equipment for the renovation of the computer and network operation center

• $3.75 million for design and construction for infrastructure development of the South Campus at GSU

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