The Session is picking up as we move towards the last day in which a bill must pass one chamber in order to be considered by the other. This year, that day will be the 3rd of March.
As the Chairman of Military Affairs, I am the leading the effort on several initiatives to save our military bases. One is to expand HOPE to Reserve and Georgia National Guard personnel, as well as to their military spouses. I am also sponsoring legislation that would allow School Choice for children living on a military base, as well as a pilot program grant that would supply school counselors to public schools that have a great number of military children. As we learned from my committee last year, positive K12 initiatives are the most critical components being considered by the Pentagon for the coming round of base closures.
I was pleased to have the very first bill that passed the House Education Committee this year. I’m working with the Department of Education and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to provide fiscal transparency to the $19 billion annual education dollars we are spending each year. I hope it receives a vote in the House next week.
So far, very few bills have been considered. The first big bill is a state-funded cancer insurance policy for Firefighters. A more expansive worker’s compensation bill was rejected by the Senate last year due to pressure from the City and County lobbyists. The “ask” this year was much more modest: a one-time $25,000 benefit for a diagnosis followed by 60 percent of their salary for three years. The cost is $4.2 million a year vice the $10.8 million last year. It passed the House with only one “no” vote.
The second major bill was the recurring hospital provider fee. This is a complicated and misunderstood issue, but the long and short of it is that six years ago, at the request of the hospitals, Georgia agreed that if they collected $300 million from hospitals to be used for Medicare, the Feds would supply the state with an additional $600 million for Medicare. Because of this agreement with the Feds, the fee must be renewed every three years. It should be noted Georgia is most efficient state in the nation in Medicaid payments, and if we did not renew this agreement, we would have to come up with almost a billion dollars to make up for it. It should also be noted that many rural hospitals would be forced to close without this measure, which 49 other states currently have. It passed both the House and Senate with only a few “no” votes.
As I always try to share interesting facts, I wanted you to know that Georgia is now the 50th (the lowest) in per capita state tax burden in the entire nation according to a recent Georgia State University study. In terms of the local’s burden we are at the midway point at No. 25. If you combine the state and locals, we sit at 47th best (lowest) in the nation.
The study also found our per capita wealth grew 9.5 percent in Georgia, much better than the US average of 7.9 percent. However, we are still the ninth worst state for people living in poverty (the top 14 states are all in the South), a number which greatly affects our education scores which are about 35th (15th from the worst). Our per capita income of $40,000 per year is 40th in the nation (the US average is $47,000). So, while our income is going up very rapidly, we are still well below the national average and many of our poor neighbors (17 percent) are being left behind.
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 email@example.com.
Dave Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.