The 11th week of Session brought some very big votes, including the Heart Beat Bill and the finalized “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. Again, this increase was not due to a tax increase. Indeed, we actually cut taxes by $0.5 billion last year, the largest tax cut in Georgia’s history. This year’s increase to revenue was due to the economic benefits of Georgia’s conservative, low-tax, pro-business policies.
Georgia’s priorities to Public Education, women’s and children’s issues, foster children and the elderly are clearly reflected in this budget. 55 percent of the budget goes to education, nearly triple the expenditure of any other area. 13 percent goes to the Department of Community Health, 8 percent to Public Safety, 8 percent for transportation, and 7 percent for general government.
89 percent or $694 million of the new monies went directly to public education, mostly to the teacher pay raise. By doing a lot of cost-cutting in other areas, we will provide the entire $3,000 pay raise the governor promised to all certified public school teachers, counselors, social workers, speech pathologists, special education specialists, media specialists, and instructional technologists. This equates to a 9 percent overall increase, the largest pay increase in Georgia’s history. Another $134 million was added to schools for enrollment growth and $47 million to charter schools. Another $89 million went to HOPE and $1 million to agriculture education. TRS also received another $21 million. We also added $421 million to our universities and $64 million to our technical colleges.
About $119 million went to give all state workers a 2 percent pay raise. Keep in mind that Georgia is still at 1990’s levels in terms of state spending. Another $151 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. Georgia is currently spending more on roads than any other state.
Another big bill we passed was the Patients First Act. It allows Georgia to pursue limited federal Medicaid waivers for people making 100% above the state poverty rate as well as lower premiums for all Georgians. Another Senate bill allows the Bible to be taught as an elective. Another bill would protect all war memorials in Georgia from vandalism or being moved. Another bill created a new tax on jet fuel as well as create a state committee called MALOC (similar to MARTOC) to oversee the 10 largest airports in Georgia. Unfortunately, there have been many indictments and well-substantiated allegations in the mismanagement of the ATL airport.
Finally, the House agreed to the Senate changes to the Heart Beat Bill. I was very pleased to support the Right to Life by the unborn. Psalms says that God had, “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” That passage and many others I could quote tells me that God cares deeply for the unborn children that He created.
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.