On Tuesday, January 16th my house colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome for the second week of the 2018 legislative session. This week we began the state budget process, which is one of the most important responsibilities we have during the entire legislative session. We are required to pass a balanced state budget every year. As we began the process, both the Joint House and Senate Appropriations committees met for a series of hearings in order to review Governor Nathan Deal’s budget recommendations.

Gov. Deal kicked off the budget process by presenting his comprehensive budget proposal on Tuesday. The Fiscal Year 2019 budget is the largest budget to be presented to the General Assembly in our state’s history due to the tremendous economic boom our state has experiences over the past few years. Georgia has maintained our AAA credit rating, has been named the No. 1 state in which to do business for the past 5 years and have invested billions of dollars in education as well as grown our Rainy Day Fund. This robust financial success has made Georgia a national leader economically and Gov. Deal’s proposed budget aims to build upon these successes as well as create opportunities for more growth. During this week’s budget hearings we were also able to hear the testimonies from several state agency heads, each of whom expressed their respective agency’s fiscal needs. The final budget will outline state funding for each of these agencies, which is why it is critical that we hear their budgetary needs as we begin this laborious process.

In order for our state to continue to experience the significant growth it’s currently experiencing we must focus on our transportation network. The future of Georgia’s economic success relies heavily on a connected and efficient transportation network. The citizens of our state and especially our businesses, depend on a viable transportation system, which is why investing in all areas of our state’s transportation network is of paramount importance. Gov. Deal’s FY 2019 budget recommendation includes:

  • $1.9 billion in annual funding to maintain and enhance Georgia’s transportation infrastructure.
  • $100 million to repair and replace bridges throughout the state.
  • $25 million to expand runways at 11 airports in Georgia in order to ensure larger aircrafts can access all areas of our state.

Education has consistently been one of Gov. Deal’s top funding priorities, and it continues to be in his final budget proposal. The Governor continued his commitment to the education of Georgia’s students by investing in many different education programs and initiatives. An investment in our state’s young minds is an investment in Georgia’s future. Our state will reap the benefits of these education appropriations we sow for generations to come. The governor’s FY 2019 budget proposal includes:

  • $30 million to assist low-wealth school districts.
  • $127.6 million to fund K-12 enrollment growth and training as well as experience for Georgia teachers.
  • $1.8 million for the REACH Georgia Scholarship program, which would provide 226 additional scholarships statewide as well as expand the program into 44 new school districts.
  • $361.7 million added for our state’s Teachers Retirement System

Healthcare has also continued to be a top priority in our state’s budget. Since 2011, our state has invested almost $240 million in behavioral health and we have been encouraged by seeing a significant decline in individuals committed to Georgia’s behavioral health hospitals because of this. Georgia’s behavioral health services have helped countless Georgians to thrive in our state, and investing in such services is critically important so we can continue to come alongside these citizens. The governor’s FY 2019 budget proposal includes:

  • $15 million to continue to fund Georgia’s intellectual and developmental disabilities waiver services and to provide supportive housing for Georgian’s in need.
  • $7 million towards the Children’s Autism Initiative.
  • 22.9 million to fund crisis services such as therapeutic foster care, Apex grants, telehealth services, suicide prevention, wraparound services, supported employment and opioid prevention treatment – all of which were recommended by the Commission on Children’s Mental Health.
  • $256 million for Medicaid expense growth.

Gov. Deal’s success with the criminal justice reform also received additional funding. Since 2012 our state has allotted a total of $113.9 million to establish and operate Georgia’s accountability court system. This is a system that provides low-level, non-violent offenders with sentencing alternatives. The FY 2019 budget includes an additional $5 million to continue on in those efforts. Gov. Deal’s sentencing reform initiatives have proven to help these low-level offenders receive the help that they truly need instead of keeping them in Georgia’s prison system.

Finally, the Governor’s proposed budgets provide state dollars for several essential programs and initiatives that meet the wide-ranging needs of all of our state’s citizens including Georgia’s child welfare services. The FY 2019 budget proposal includes:

  • $15.1 million for grown in and out-of-home care utilization.
  • $10.1 million in order to continue to increase Georgia’s foster parent per diem rates.
  • $3.6 million to increase out-of-home care provider rates.

These are just some of the highlights of the governor’s budget proposals. The House Appropriations subcommittees will hold hearings next week and continue to review these Proposals. These subcommittees will begin to pass portions of the state budget and those portions of the budget will then go before the full House Appropriations Committee, which will then review and pass balanced budgets for AYF 2018 and FY 2019.

Some other important news from this week is that our colleagues in the Senate passed their version of House Bill 159 on Thursday. The original bill passed the House unanimously last session and would modernize our state’s adoption laws for the first time in nearly 30 years. The Senate amended some key provisions in the legislation and added HB 359, a bill dealing with temporary powers of attorney, which Gov. Deal vetoed last year. We began reviewing the Senate’s changes this week, and we hope to work with them and Gov. Deal to get this measure finalized and signed into law.

On Thursday morning Gov. Deal made a major announcement, one that could have tremendous and positive impact on our state. It was announced that Atlanta is included on Amazon’s short list of top 20 finalists for the companies second headquarters. This is exciting news for us and I’m honored to be part of a state that has consistently been ranked the best in the country for business. I’m looking forward to seeing how Georgia continues to fare in Amazon’s site selection process!

The House will be back in session on Monday, January 22. We have another busy week ahead of us as the pace of the session continues to pick up. As we move forward, I encourage you to visit me at my capitol office, or call me if you have any questions or concerns regarding the state budget bills, the legislative process or any other measures being considered under the Gold Dome. My capitol office is located at 607-F Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg, my office phone number is 404-656- 0287, and my email address is karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov. Please feel free to reach out to me anytime. You can also stay up-to-date by following my Facebook Page. Thank you for allowing me to be your representative!

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