One of the most important weeks of the 2017 legislative session began last Tuesday, January 17, 2017. The House and Senate Appropriations committees held their joint budget hearings, and started the process of reviewing Governor Nathan Deal’s budget recommendations for the amended current and upcoming fiscal years. It was a busy week as we worked to begin the process of turning these budget recommendations into legislation that will guide our state’s spending.  My colleagues and I are working hard to ensure that we efficiently allocate our state revenue to best serve our citizens.

As required by the state constitution, we must pass a balanced state budget during each legislative session. After hearing Gov. Deal’s budget proposals, we will begin drafting the following budget bills:

  • Amended Fiscal Year 2017 (AFY 2017) Budget: an amended budget for the current fiscal year ending on June 30, 2017. Uses a more accurate estimate of state revenue, and accounts for any inconsistencies between the projected estimate and the actual revenue acquired.
  • Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018) Budget: a full budget that uses estimated state revenue to guide state spending (starting on July 1, 2017) for the 2018 fiscal year.

Our budget hearings began Tuesday morning with Gov. Deal’s comprehensive budget recommendations before the joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee members.  We also heard testimonies from a wide array of state agency heads, explaining their budgetary needs and answering questions from committee members. These testimonies are important, as the final versions of the budgets specify how much funding these agencies receive.

Georgia has had continuous economic success, with growth in our labor markets, wages and revenues, and projected increase in revenue growth in the upcoming year. With this as a foundation, Gov. Deal’s AFY 2017 budget includes approximately $606 million in ‘new’ revenue, and a state appropriation of $25 billion in total funding for the full FY 2018 budget. The governor said these budget proposals were made in an effort continue upon our state’s successes, and to create new opportunities for growth.

The following were addressed in the governor’s 2017/2018 budget proposals:

Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center

The governor allocated $50 million for the Augusta based state-owned-facility in his 2017 fiscal year budget proposal. The center would serve to enhance American cybersecurity in both public and private settings through the innovation in cybersecurity technology and the defense of our state against potential threats. The center would benefit our state with both the attraction of entrepreneurs looking for startup opportunities as well as a young demographic interested in cybersecurity.

Statewide Law Enforcement Improvements

Gov. Deal included the allocation of $27.3 million for a 20% salary increase for law enforcement officers, and additional increases for public safety trainers and criminal investigators in his 2017 budget recommendations. Additional funding was also proposed in the budget for vehicles and equipment for law enforcement officers, and investigative/bomb response vehicles and equipment for aid during wildfires. The funding increases are designed to reduce turnover and improve recruitment in these areas. I commend the governor’s efforts to further support the safety and well-being of those who call Georgia home.

Criminal Justice Reform

Gov. Deal’s criminal justice reforms have helped to give offenders second chances, while saving our taxpayers money and promoting offender rehabilitation. It has been the governor’s mission to implement improvements to our criminal justice system. With this in mind,  the governor hopes to continue this reform through the allocation of $4.2 million to the expansion of the state’s Juvenile Justice Incentive Grants and accountability courts in his FY 2018 budget. Both of these aim to provide community-based rehabilitation as an alternative to sentencing. The governor also included a $3.7 million allocation to the continued education and vocation assistance programs for inmates to help prepare for their success upon release. Georgia has had a successful history of implementing effective criminal justice reform initiatives and our goal is to continue it.

Division of Family and Children Services

Gov. Deal included $25.9 million allotment toward the Division of Family and Children Services in his FY 2018 budget proposal, to further ensure that every Georgian maintains a healthy and safe quality of life, including our children. The funds would go towards several new positions for the Division of Family and Children Services. This would include the recruitment and retention of the most qualified caseworkers and salary increases for current DFCS staff. The need for more DFCS  caseworkers is not a negative, but rather indicative of our programs and initiatives working to benefit Georgia’s children. Call volume and reported cases have increased due to our initiative to highlight the importance of reporting cases of potential child abuse or endangerment. There is a need for additional caseworkers not only because of the increase in cases, but also because our caseworkers would be able to better serve our state’s children with an a lower average caseload per worker.

Out-of-home/Foster Care

A rise in the number of children in out-of-home care has occurred because of  the statewide population growth, resulting in a 62% increase in costs to the state since 2013. The governor has allocated both $28.6 million in his AFY 2017 budget and $30.9 million in his FY 2018 budget proposal in an effort to address this increase. In order to address the rising number of children in in out-of-home care as we move forward, Gov. Deal included a $3.9 million increase in per diem reimbursements for DFCS foster parents and $2.9 million for additional support in the recruitment and retention of foster families in his FY 2018 budget. These budget recommendations will help to ensure the welfare of our youngest citizens.

Georgia’s Education System

Gov. Deal allocated portions of his AFY 2017 and his FY 2018 budgets to the development of the Georgia Center for Early Language and Literacy, in an effort to better equip our educators with the skills they need to teach reading and literacy. The facility will be located at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, and would allow our educators to be trained on how to address literacy obstacles in the classroom. The governor’s FY 2018 budget proposal also includes a 2% merit pay increase for teachers. For this purpose, an additional $160 million in combination with other funding would bring the new total of additional funding for k-12 education to more than $2.017 billion over the past 4 fiscal years. We need to ensure that Georgia’s colleges of education are properly preparing our future teachers to handle a wide range of educational needs, and it is important that we invest in those who devote their careers to the state’s leaders of tomorrow.

As we move forward in the legislative process, the following things must happen in order for the proposed budget to become a law:

Legislative Process

  • Joint appropriations committee meetings conclude, and the House Appropriations subcommittees further address the governor’s budget proposals
  • The budget goes to the full House Appropriations Committee to be reviewed and passed
  • The House Appropriations Committee passes the budget, moving it to the Rules Committee where they will place it on the House calendar
  • The budget arrives on the House floor,  where every member has the opportunity to voice their opinions before they vote
  • The House passes the budget, sending it to the State Senate where it will go through the same process
  • The budget passed by the Senate will most likely differ from the original version passed by the House
  • The Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor both appoint a conference committee to resolve any discrepancies between the House and Senate versions
  • The conference committee will reach an agreement, and their final version will return to both the House and Senate for a final floor vote
  • If approved by both the House and Senate, the legislation will be sent to the governor’s office where he can sign or veto
  • When Gov. Deal signs the budget, it will then become law

 

You are welcome to visit me at my office located at 607-F Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg.Atlanta, GA 30334. You may also feel free to call me at 404.656.0287 or send me an email at karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov. You can also stay up-to-date by following my Facebook page.

Thank you for letting me continue to serve and represent you.

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