As in year’s past, the first few weeks of Session sees only a few bills as much of our time is tied up with budgeting, reports from the Governor, and ceremonial events. The pace will soon pick up as bills start to make their way through the committee process.
There were a few highlights, especially in terms of economic development. The Governor publicly declared 2017 as the Year of Georgia Film, prominently featuring Covington on the front cover of Georgia Magazine. Remarkably, the Peach State is now third in the nation and fifth in the world in film-making with an annual impact of $7 billion a year. Closer to home, the advent of Three Rings Studio will solidify Covington as the Hollywood of the South, bringing thousands of more artistic jobs to our area.
Tourism – our second largest industry in Georgia – is also up 3 percent to a whopping $59 billion annual impact, supporting 439,000 jobs and $3 billion in taxes. We’re attracting 102 million visitors from America and 1 million from other countries. Georgia exports also continue to grow. We’re exporting $38 billion of products overseas – mostly from the port of Savannah – supporting another 200,000 jobs.
The biggest thing we did in Session this week was to pass the “Small Budget”, the annual correction for the current year’s budget to take into account additions or subtractions from the gathered revenue. Thankfully, Georgia is one of the few states in America that is experiencing growth. Our original state budget of $23.7 billion will increase by $0.6 billion due to an increase of 2.5 percent to our revenue. Most of that money ($222 million) will go to funding the increase to the number of new K12 children to our schools. It’s hard to believe, but Georgia now has the fourth highest student per capita ratio in the nation for a total of 1.7 million kids. $118 million will go to roads and $50 million will go to fund the Cyber Range at Fort Gordon (the Feds are investing $2 billion in construction to expand the new Cyber Command). $25 million will fund the 20 percent pay increase to state law enforcement and $23 million will go to replace very old police vehicles. Another $30 million is going to healthcare and $21 million to higher education.
Regarding the military and my efforts to save our bases in Georgia, I’m sorry to report – but not surprised – that the President and both Republicans and Democratic leaders of the Senate Armed Forces Committee are publicly requesting another round of base closures. In fact, a bill has already been filed in Washington to start the process. It is incumbent on Georgia that we shore up our military now - or risk losing the $20 billion annually the DOD provides to our state.
I must close with a note about the inauguration. The gathering of the entire government for that solemn event is more than just a ceremony. It’s a renewal of the promise that every President since George Washington makes to the American people that he (or she) will give up the most powerful position on the planet to preserve our nation’s liberty. King George III, upon hearing that Washington had voluntarily stepped down, called him the “greatest man in the world” because no one in history had ever done such a thing. In a way, that peaceful transfer of power is more important, more symbolic of the heart and soul of our nation, than even the 4th of July - because of the sheer uniqueness of the act, as well as the humility of the departing President…whomever that may be. That it would be politicized or boycotted – regardless of how you voted – is sad and unprecedented…save that incredibly divisive election in 1860. Surely, we don’t want to go down that road again.
I hope you will continue to pray for me as I serve you under the Golden Dome.
Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.