Speaker Ralston gaveled the 2012 Session to order in the House on Monday, Governor Deal presented the State of the State address on Tuesday, and all members received copies of the proposed 2013 budget on Wednesday. Next week the General Assembly is on recess as budget hearings will consume much of members time.
Governor Deal’s 2013 Budget takes advantage of recent strength in state revenues and makes several strategic investments most importantly in education. Highlights include:
- Increasing Pre-K school year by 10 days to 170 days and Pre-K teacher salaries accordingly
- Funds 84,000 Pre-K slots for children
- Adds $87.9 million to fund enrollment growth for Quality Basic Education
- Provides $55.8 million in pay increases for Georgia’s teachers based on training and experience
- No reduction in QBE, Equalization Grants, State Schools, or other enrollment driven programs
- $1.6 million for reading mentor’s program targeting 3rd grade competency
- Preserves same level as last year for qualifying students receiving HOPE awards
Economic development and tax policy driven by the Governor’s Competitiveness Initiative includes a recommendation to eliminate the sales tax on energy inputs into manufacturing. Governor Deal continues to fund deepening the Savannah harbor with an additional $46.7 million in preparation for increased shipments via larger vessels beginning in 2014.
The Criminal Justice Reform Council’s recommendations focused on increasing public safety while decreasing the burden on Georgia’s taxpayers resulted in budgetary appropriations for alternative courts and sentencing for low risk offenders. Georgia has the fourth largest prison system in the nation with a cost in excess of $1.1 billion annually.
Additionally, the Governor applied Zero-Based Budgeting to over 10% of state programs this year and will continue to do so in future years. Georgia’s long history of fiscal management ranks our state as one of only eight with a Triple-A bond rating. The proposed 2013 budget is balanced without any new tax increases.
Both Governor Deal and Chancellor Huckaby announced consolidation and efficiency improvements this week.
The Governor ‘s improvements include moving the Child Care Services program from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Early Care and Learning; transfers the Sexual Offender Registration and Review Board to the GBI; consolidating the State Personnel Administration into the Department of Administrative Services; transfers the responsibilities of the Comptroller from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance to the State Accounting Office; moves the Safety Inspection program from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture; and transfers assets and personnel from the Georgia Aviation Authority to the Georgia Forestry Commission, Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Public Safety. These improvements generate a slight reduction in overall staffing and efficiency improvements in asset utilization, customer service, and cost savings.
Chancellor Huckaby recommended and the Board of Regents approved merging 8 colleges into 4. The consolidations will merge Augusta State University with Georgia Health Sciences University; Gainesville State College with North Georgia College & State University; Middle Georgia College with Macon State College; and Waycross College with South Georgia College. The merges should be completed by Fall of 2013 and could save millions annually.
All in all, not a bad start to the 2012 Session.
As always, I remain appreciative that you allow me to serve as your state Representative. Please contact me with any issue of state importance to you.
Enjoy your weekend,