Unlike the federal government, which hasn’t passed a balanced budget since Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House, the budget is always your state General Assembly’s biggest priority. Many states do not balance their budgets, but Georgia always does. In fact, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Vermont and Pennsylvania (in that order) are currently individually carrying between tens and hundreds of billions of dollars of debt.
Interestingly, all but one of those 13 states are run by a particular political party. Georgia, on the other hand, is doing very well. In fact, because of Gov. Kemp’s early decision to allow our businesses to open and operate safely during the pandemic, Georgia has had the fourth best rebound out of that pandemic. And, as a recent Johns Hopkins report concludes, all the COVID lockdowns all across America only had a 0.2% effect, the governor’s decision seems to have been a good one.
Indeed, collections are up so much (without increasing taxes) that we now have a $3.7 billion surplus, a new Georgia record. Thus, the Governor has proposed a bold $30.2 billion budget, up a whopping 11% from last year, while still only spending 2/3 of the surplus.
As usual, education will be the big winner. The governor will add a $2,000 permanent pay raise to every teacher, completing his campaign promise of giving them an overall $5,000 pay increase. He also promised an additional $2,000 bonus to all full-time teachers and staff. More importantly, he vowed to add $1.4 billion to education, fully funding it again this year, as well as add another $425 million to restore the austerity cuts during the pandemic. To my knowledge, this is the first time we have ever restored lost moneys from the past back to our schools. Overall, this year’s budget will be the largest per student investment in Georgia’s history.
HOPE is also doing better than ever, posting a record $376 million last quarter. Overall, we have raised $24.6 billion to send our children to our excellent Georgia colleges.
The Governor also proposed to spend $408 million to improve Rural Broadband, as well as the $20 million he spent last year. He will also add $110 million to our courts to address recent delays we’ve had in adjudicating cases, as well as more money for the Anti-Gang Task Force. There will also be a $5,000 raise for state troopers, more money for Foster Care, and more measures to eradicate human trafficking. He also plans to give state retirees their first pay increase in a decade.
Remarkably, the governor also plans to send $1.6 billion back to the taxpayers by deducting $500 from joint filers ($250 from single) from their income tax. I’m also very pleased that the governor has promised to eliminate the retired military income tax — an initiative I’ve been working on for seven years.
Some of the governor’s biggest issues this year will be a Parental Bill of Rights, “to increase transparency in education by ensuring school districts have procedures in place for parental participation in schools.” The measure would codify parent’s rights to access instructional material, as well as request information from their schools. As the legislator who passed the nation’s second state Fiscal Transparency bill a few years ago, I agree that transparency is nearly always a good thing. There will also be a bill that bans obscene materials from schools, another bill that hopes to ensure fairness in school sports, and a Constitutional Carry bill.
I hope you will pray for me as I attempt to serve the people of Morgan and Newton counties.
State Rep. Dave Belton is a Republican representing District 112 in the Georgia House.