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BELTON: All signs pointing to ‘big’ budget increase
Belton, Dave
State Rep. Dave Belton

The House passed the amended or “small” budget last week. The amended budget tweaks the current fiscal year’s budget based on the amount of money that is coming in versus what was expected. The Senate will now have to look at it, while the House starts to work on the next year’s “big” budget.

Based on very favorable revenue returns, we will be adding $654 million to this year’s original $25.9 billion budget, a 2.5% increase. Because of the safe reopening of Georgia’s businesses, we are in a lot better shape than most states. Thus, we will be adding more than half a billion dollars into this year’s current budget, mostly to education and health care. Keep in mind, last summer we cut the current year’s budget substantially due to the pandemic, down 10% for most agencies for a total of $1.6 billion less overall. Now, this year’s “small” or Amended Budget will fill back some of the those empty coffers. 

Education will get the lion’s share, putting in $567 million to replace 60% of the $950 million cut we made. We are also holding schools harmless this year for declining growth, as many parents are leaving virtual public schools for in-person learning at private schools. At $9.6 billion, K12 Education is by far the largest item in our budget, taking up 43% of the total amount. The Feds are also chipping in $144 million to Early Care and Learning and a whopping $2.1 billion from the CARES Act. Higher Education got an additional $70 million as well. 

Healthcare got over $100 million overall. This includes $18 million for Department of Public Health, $15 million for AIDS, $41 million for Community Health, and $24 million for Medicaid. We also added $130 million to Human Services for COVID relief. But the big addition here was again from the feds, who added a stunning $1 billion for COVID. Because of this huge outlay, and more promised monies coming from President Biden, Georgia DPH agencies are not asking for more money at this time. 

The Federal CARES Act will also provide $60 million to the Department of Labor for Unemployment, $437 million to Transportation, and $11 million for election security. 

Georgia will also add $25 million for Forestland Protection Grants, $199 million to new roads and bridges, and $20 million for Rural Broadband Grants. 

Georgia is doing much better economically than most states. In a shocking report, the US Commerce Dept recently announced that overall, the US GDP shrank 3.5% in 2020, the first decline since 2009 and the worst collapse since 1946. Pre-COVID, the GDP had been up a stunning 2.2%. 

On the bright side, the fourth quarter GDP from last year was up 4% throughout the US. That means that the nation is climbing out of this. But it was not enough to overcome the disaster of the second and third quarters of 2020 caused by the lockdowns. 

The report also mirrored what the UGA economist told us last week. Real incomes are down overall throughout the U.S. by 10%, yet people have 13% more money in the bank. Having more savings is always good, but printing and then throwing borrowed money at the nation is problematic, as people are saving and not spending most of it. 

Overall, we should count ourselves lucky to live in a state that has balanced the needs of saving both lives and livelihoods. Every state (except Utah) lost GDP over the last year, but Georgia is third best in the nation at losing the least, only 2%. Some states lost as much as 8%, (again, the nation lost 3.5% overall.)

I hope you will continue to pray for me as I continue to serve the good people of Newton and Morgan counties. 

Dave Belton is a Republican from District 112 in the Georgia House of Representatives, serving Morgan and Newton counties.