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Posted: February 19, 2017 5:00 a.m.

Belton: House passes balanced budget

The House overcame our largest hurdle this week as we passed – once again – a balanced budget…something our federal government in Washington hasn’t done for decades.

The $24.9 billion budget for 2018 will increase by $1.25 billion or 5 percent as a result of Georgia growing into the eighth largest state in the nation: not from a tax increase. As I stated last week, Georgia is the 50th (lowest or “best”) in per capita state tax burden in the entire nation according to a recent Georgia State University study, and we are one of the only states in the South currently enjoying growing revenues. Over half (62 percent) of the new revenue ($780 million) will go to Education, 15 percent ($185 million) will go to Transportation, 10 percent ($125 million) will go to Public Safety, 10 percent will go to Healthcare and 3 percent will go to Economic Development.

As the Chairman of Military Affairs, I was able to procure $455,000 to provide school counselors for military children. This was a big “ask” by every military base we visited, and will help protect the $20 billion the Pentagon invests in Georgia every year. I’m also glad that my School Choice Bill for children who live on a military base bill passed the House Education Committee and is headed to the Floor. Military children face unique challenges as they’re deprived of their mothers and fathers for up to a year at a time. We also added money for scholarships for Georgia National Guard and other veterans.

Back to the overall budget, we gave state law enforcement a 20 percent increase ($55 million) and teachers another 2 percent increase ($162 million). We budgeted teachers a 3 percent increase last year, but many systems used that money for other purposes. We also added money for Higher Education ($120 million), HOPE ($78 million), Medicaid ($38 million), Nurses ($21 million), Nursing Homes ($12 million), Child Welfare ($26 million), Autism ($21 million), Foster Care ($11 million), Move On When Ready (29 million), Early Care ($6 million), and School Counselors ($4 million).

Overall, the largest part of our budget (54 percent) is spent on Education, as Georgia has 1.7 million kids in 2,267 public schools. Next is Healthcare at 13 percent, Transportation at 7 percent, Corrections at 5 percent, Behavioral Health at 4 percent, HOPE at 3 percent, Human Services at 3 percent, Pre-K at 2 percent, and Juvenile Justice at 1 percent.

The bills are starting to move, though at a slower pace than last year. I was pleased my School Transparency bill that will keep track of the $19 billion we spend on K12 Education every year passed the House by a unanimous vote. Most other bills have been housekeeping measures such as a bill that will allow us to collect internet sales tax from people purchasing items from out of the state. This is not a tax increase, but a mechanism to collect the already owed sales tax. It is also a measure to go to more of a “sales tax system” in an effort to go to a Fair Tax model.

Probably the most important bill this year is HB 338. I have been working very hard with Representative Kevin Tanner to create a system of supports and assistance for our 153 chronically underperforming schools. A Chief Turnaround Officer – who will work for the Department of Education - will be given various tools to assist these schools. If progress is not made after a few years, he/she will then have certain interventions to fix these schools to include the removal of the local School Board. We are basing this program off a very successful system in Kentucky. We have included many discussions with all the stake holders – including the Minority Party – to ensure we get this right. So far, nearly everyone is in general agreement. The biggest disagreement is whether the Turnaround Officer should report to the State Superintendent or the State School Board. I’m confident this can be worked out.

Covington was host to three Georgia Governors and over 500 law enforcement officers last week at the funeral of SFC Charles “Tony” Henry. A “Trooper’s Trooper”, a servant of Christ, and a true family man, he will be greatly missed.

I hope you will continue to pray for me as I serve you under the Golden Dome. You can contact me at 706-372-4114 or davebelton112@gmail.com.

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