The seventh week of Session brought some very big votes, including the Ballot Bill and the “Big” Budget.
The “Big” Budget is for next year’s expenditures. It grew 4 percent, or $1 billion, from last year to a total of $27.5 billion. Our priorities to public education, women’s and children’s issues, maternal mortality, foster children and the elderly are reflected in this budget.
Eighty percent, or $600 million, of the new monies went directly to public education, mostly to the teacher pay raise. Initially, the intent was to give all teachers a $3,000 pay raise this year and eventually get to a $5,000 pay raise during the following years. However, we received numerous requests to include other certified employees of our schools. Since the money ($483 million) was already allocated and could not be added to, it was decided that all certified public school teachers, counselors, social workers, speech pathologists, special education specialists, media specialists, and instructional technologists will receive a $2,775 pay raise. Another $122 million was added to schools for enrollment growth and $47 million to charter schools. Another $89 million went to HOPE and another $1 million to agricultural education. TRS also received another $18 million. We also added $421 million to our universities and $64 million to our technical colleges. In total, more than 55 percent of the budget goes to education.
About $119 million went to give all state workers a 2 percent pay raise. Georgia is still at 1990’s levels in terms of state spending. Another $146 million went to health or Medicaid growth and $25 million went to other health needs. Another $11 million went to nursing homes and maternal care. We spent another $10 million on our public libraries and about $44 million on behavioral health. Foster care received another $10 million, Troopers got about $6 million, and another $39 million went to our roads and bridges.
My forth military bill passed the House Floor as well as another bill from Representative Brian Prince, of Augusta. If the Senate passes all these military bills, Georgia will be all “green” on the Pentagon’s request list. These three bills protect abused military children, as well as give military spouses and all psychologists and physical therapists greater ability to work in Georgia. Because of the dangerous nature of their work, the military hires more physical therapists than anyone, and because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they need a lot of psychologists.
The Ballot Bill passed the House Floor on a partisan vote. That was unfortunate, since the differences in the two sides were actually very small. We also passed a few pilot programs to combat HIV and obesity. We also passed a bill that will allow farmers to grow hemp for manufacturing purposes such as rope. It is NOT the Cannabis bill that would allow very narrowly selected institutions in Georgia to produce cannabis oil for medical purposes. That bill has not yet come to the Floor.
In conclusion, I’d like to say a special word about the passing of former Representative Mickey Channell, of Greene County. Chairman of the incredibly powerful Ways and Means Committee, Representative Channell was the author of Peachcare for Children which currently serves more than 200,000 needy children. Serving in the House for 22 years, he also reformed our tax system to make it one of the best (lowest cost per citizen) in the nation. Named Legislator of the Year numerous times, as well as a plethora of other honors, he will be missed for his honesty, integrity and love of the Great State of Georgia.
I hope you will continue to pray for me as I serve the people of Newton and Morgan counties.
Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.