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Belton: Budget planning continues at state
Dave Belton

The fifth week of Session has been much more productive as the adoption bill was finally passed by both chambers and is on the Governor’s desk. This prompted the House to vote on the Amended or “baby” budget which will add $307 million to the total budget of $24.9 billion. This increase is solely due to increased revenues: not new taxes. Georgia is the lowest (best) state in the nation in collections per capita.

The vast majority of the new increases will be in education at $149 million, mostly to keep up with the increase of children. Transportation enjoys a $45 million increase, including projects to lengthen both Newton and Morgan county airports. Longer runways mean bigger corporate jets, which means more jobs to our area. Another $18 million will go to forestry, $10 million will go to the emergency fund and another $16 million will be spent on state workers compensation and liability premiums. Around $32 million will be added to healthcare and another $19 million to human services. Another $5 million will go to public safety, mostly to troopers.

I have had a very productive legislative week, where two of my military bills passed the House unanimously. My small city election bill is still on hold, and I just introduced a resolution to create a study committee to research how other states are improving teacher morale and enhancing the profession. I’m also hosting Congressman Jody Hice to the capitol to talk about how we can help our military. Finally, I’m working with the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and House leaders to create a new Defense Initiative Counsel to create a state-wide strategy to protect our military from another round of base closures.

Education is on many people’s minds. There was a proposal to place the K12 Career Tech program under the Technical College system, but this far-reaching idea has been tabled until next year. There is also a bill to allow local school boards – with the consent of its constituents by a voter referendum – to use up to 50 percent of its ESPLOST money for maintenance and operations. I championed this idea as a school board member back in 2011 when we had money to build buildings but not enough to pay teachers. The education committee also passed a bill to help identify very young children who get in trouble to require systems to investigate if those children might have speech, sight, or hearing issues. Another bill would create better protocols to improve school climate and teacher morale. Yet another bill would increase the amount of money that private citizens could fund a limited private school scholarship for a tax credit. The House passed a modest increase, but the Senate is contemplating doubling the amount.

Perhaps the most controversial bill on the horizon is the proposal to require that if you use your phone while driving, it must not be in your hand. Bluetooth and speakerphone options would theoretically be allowed. The bill does not enjoy wide-spread support at this time.

Finally, as many of you know, because the Georgia Income Tax is based on the federal income tax structure, there will be a yet-to-be defined windfall in revenues because several deductions were eliminated in the federal tax cut. The House wanted to try to correct this imbalance this year, but because we can only guess how much revenue there will actually be, the Governor has asked that we not propose a tax cut this year until we have accurate numbers. We fully intend to correct this imbalance once we get a better picture.ow

 I certainly need your prayers as I serve the people of Newton and Morgan counties. You may contact me at davebelton112@gmail.com or 706-372-4114.