ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's House backed changes to the state budget Wednesday that would add $5 billion in spending, including a burst of roadbuilding, new dental and medical schools, and money to cover bonuses paid to state employees and teachers.
”Five billion dollars. You can do a lot of good with $5 billion," House Appropriations Committee Chair Matt Hatchett, a Dublin Republican, told House members. "Now, not every item in the budget is glamorous, but I can tell you it’s needed.”
The House voted 161-2 to pass a bill that adds money to the current budget running through June 30. The bill now goes to the Senate for its own changes.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp proposed the boost, which would push spending of state money to $37.5 billion. Total spending, including federal aid, college tuition, fines and fees, would rise to $67.5 billion
The state can spend lots more, even though growth in tax collections is slowing, because Kemp set a revenue estimate much lower than what the state will actually collect this year and because Georgia has $10.7 billion in surplus cash beyond its $5.4 billion rainy day fund. Kemp would spend up to $2 billion of the surplus.
Because lawmakers can't spend above Kemp's revenue estimate, lawmakers can only cut or rearrange the governor's proposed spending.
In some cases, the House voted to add back projects that Kemp originally struck from this year's budget, a move that provoked anger among lawmakers. Kemp has since allowed some of that spending to take place, and Hatchett said the House would continue to push for other items.
“Please know, we aren’t done with the discussion," Hatchett said.
The governor before Christmas ordered $1,000 bonuses paid to state and university employees and public school teachers. The House plan includes $315 million to pay for the bonuses. Kemp has also proposes pay raised for employees beginning July 1, which lawmakers will finalize in March when they vote on next year's budget. Kemp wants state and university employees to get a 4% cost-of-living increase across the board, while teachers would get a roughly equivalent $2,500-a-year increase.
The House agreed to Kemp's plan to spend $1.5 billion more to speed planned roadwork and establish a freight infrastructure program. But the House wants to spend $100 million more on road repaving to cover higher costs for asphalt and concrete. The House also boosted spending for airport aid. To pay for those changes, the panel cut Kemp's proposed spending on freight infrastructure by $131 million to $510 million.
The House would allocate Kemp's proposed $200 million increase in road and bridge aid to cities and counties in a way that wouldn't require local governments to match the money. The measure also includes $178 million for a new dental school at Georgia Southern University in Savannah and $50 million for a freestanding medical school at the University of Georgia.
The House approved Kemp's plans to spend $451 million to finish a new prison in Washington County and $135 million to repair other prisons. The budget also adds money to install technology to prevent inmates from using contraband cell phones.
Also approved were $500 million to pay down debt in one of the state's employee pension funds, $250 million to finance water and sewer work, and $200 million for grants and sites to attract industry.