Monday, February 10th, my colleagues and I returned to the State Capitol for the fifth week of the 2020 legislative session. Last week, my colleagues and I voted on a legislative calendar to postpone meeting on the house House Floor in order to devote additional time to the state budgeting process. This week the House Appropriations subcommittees held several meetings to work to finalize the AFY 2020 FY 2021 budgets. Crafting the state budget is always an arduous process, and this year is no different! So, my colleagues and I spent the fifth week dedicating our time to gathering more information on potential budget adjustments for the current and upcoming fiscal years. 

Governor Brian Kemp previously instructed our state agencies to reduce spending by 4% in AFY 2020 and 6% in FY 2021, which would save taxpayers millions of dollars on inefficient operational costs. This equals approximately $216 saved in 2020 and $341 in 2021. Even after these reductions, the FY 2021 budget is still set at several hundred million dollars above the current fiscal year’s budget. 

 

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Resources

Over the last ten years, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Resources has worked to secure additional state funding to improve mental health services and bolster programs that provide treatment for citizens with substance abuse in Georgia, and this week, we learned more about budget adjustments in these areas. The governor’s proposed budget for AYF 2020 would amend the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ budget to save $34.3 million, and general funds for the agency would be reduced by more than $45.9 million in the FY 2021 budget. These reductions include:

  • More than $4.9 million in the AFY 2020 budget that the General Assembly allocated last year for an additional 144 residential treatment beds for six facilities across the state. 
  • Adult mental health services would see a reduction of nearly $3.5 million in 2020 and more than &7.4 million in 2021. 
  • Child and adolescent mental health services would be reduced by almost $12.8 million this fiscal year and approximately $14.1 million in the upcoming fiscal year. 

 

Health Departments

This week, my colleagues and I also examined areas of Gov. Kemp’s budget that includes services that our rural communities often rely on. Each of the state’s 159 counties has its own local health department, which is sometimes the closest, if not the only location where citizens in rural areas can receive health care services. These health departments provide preventative care, offer innovative telehealth services for residents to receive care remotely via video conference and conduct necessary environmental health inspections of restaurants and hotels. Under Gov. Kemp’s proposal, the Department of Public Health would see a reduction of approximately:

  • $6.4 million in the AFY 2020 budget that would affect grant funds for county health departments
  • $9.2 million reduction in funding for these departments in the FY 2021 budget. 
  • The Department of Community Health’s funding would be reduced by $630,000 in both the AFY 2020 and the FY 2021 budgets. 
  • There is also a proposed reduction of $463,000 in one-time funds for the state’s Rural Health Innovation Center. 

These reductions would affect programs that attract and retain doctors in rural Georgia, as well as loan repayment awards for health care providers. Over the last several years, the House has led the charge in creating legislative solutions that aid rural communities, and improving the quality of life and ensuring access to basic health care services for rural Georgians continues to be a priority in the House.

 

Agricultural Education and Research 

We also spent time this week examining proposed budget adjustments for agricultural education and research programs that aid the state’s farmers and agricultural industry in a variety of ways. We learned that under Gov. Kemp’s AFY 2020 budget proposal, the AES and CES programs would be reduced by approximately $6.2 million, and programs would see a reduction of more than $7.6 million in the FY 2021 budget. This would reduce funding for vacant positions, contractual services, operating expenses and maintenance costs for these programs. Agriculture is the number one industry in Georgia, and my colleagues and I will remain committed to maintaining this title as we consider funding for these programs.

 

Georgia Bureau of Investigation

We also discussed proposed funding for the state’s crime labs that handle and process sexual assault evidence. In 2016, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 304, or the “Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Act,” to address rape kit backlog at the time and overhaul the way our state handles and processes these evidence kits. In 2018, the House announced that a backlog of 3,005 sexual assault kits had been tested, and 321 of these kits resulted in DNA matches that identified criminals!

This week, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and informed us that the agency is experiencing another backlog. GBI receives approximately 200 kits per month but is only able to test an average of 106 kits each month with the current number of scientists that are employed. If GBI continues to process these rape kits at their current rate, there could be more than 2,000 backlogged kits by the end of 2020. Gov. Kemp’s budget proposal for AFY 2020 reduces GBI funds by $1.6 million for unfilled scientist positions. GBI director Vic Reynolds told the sub-committee this week that despite the cost-saving measures, he will work to ensure that the backlog does not reach the same levels that we experienced in 2016.

 

Savannah Harbor

         While we worked on the state budget this week, my colleagues and I received word that the federal government is taking steps to support the growth and expansion of the Savannah harbor and Port of Savannah, which is one of the busiest ports in the country and an economic driver in our state. President Donald Trump announced that his budget proposal includes $93.6 million in funds for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which will deepen Savannah’s harbor to allow for larger vessels. This vital project has a total projected cost of $1 billion, and these federal funds will help the project stay on track to finish by 2022. Additionally, the Georgia Ports Authority announced that the Port of Savannah has been awarded $34.6 million through the Port Infrastructure Development Grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation to modernize the port’s loading docks. The Port of Savannah plays an important role in global commerce, and these investments will provide a great opportunity for the port to remain a worldwide leader in imports and exports.

 

By the end of the fifth week, the House Appropriations Committee began voting on portions of the AFY 2020 budget from the subcommittees on transportation, education, and economic development. Next week, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the remaining portions of the amended budget from the other appropriations subcommittees and consider the entire AFY 2020 budget bill as a whole. In the meantime, we will also keep working to finalize the FY 2021 budget bill. While the state budget bills continue to make their way through the legislative process, I encourage you to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have regarding the state’s budgeting process or any budget recommendations. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0298, and my email address is karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov. Please contact me anytime.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative! 

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