Budget hearings were held Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this past week. Governor Deal submitted his budget proposals for the Amended FY2013, and FY2014 and described some highlights of his proposals. In his budget remarks, Gov. Deal provided us with positive news. With increased funds available for education, the governor recommends we expand our pre-K program by 10 days, which will advance early learning and increase salaries for pre-K teachers. The governor also recommends fully funding enrollment growth for K-12 schools through the Quality Basic Education funding formula, and providing $147 million for salary increases for teachers based on training and experience in FY 2014. Additionally, Gov. Deal designates $1.6 million to continue the reading mentor program, and $41 million to new funding for the Quality Basic Education Equalization program.
To support our state’s higher education investments, the governor chose to designate specific funding to increase HOPE awards, and to establish a new HOPE grant program: the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant. This grant will provide additional financial assistance above what is covered by the traditional HOPE Grant for students in our Technical College System pursuing a high-demand certificate or diploma program. Gov. Deal has also allotted $84.6 million for the Board of Regents to fund growth within our colleges and universities, and $185 million to construct and equip new higher education facilities.
Like education, infrastructure is also a priority in the governor’s proposed budget. Gov. Deal designated $50 million for the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project. Gov. Deal also designated $25 million for water supply projects in an effort to continue our four year plan to boost water security. He also proposed more than $60 million in new funding for exploring innovative solutions to our state’s transportation needs. All of these projects are essential to ensuring Georgia’s infrastructure is prepared for continued state growth.
Because Healthcare is the largest cost driver in recent budgets, growth in Medicaid expenses will require an additional $246 million in both FY 2013 and FY 2014. In order to defray these growth requirements, the Governor has worked closely with the Department of Community Health to identify areas where we can save money. The Governor also proposed an additional $35 million for mental health and developmentally disabled consumer services.
While these funding initiatives for education, infrastructure, and healthcare are certainly a positive result of Georgia’s economic recovery over the last year, most state agencies are still being asked to make budget cuts. The AFY 2013 budget has about $26 million in spending cuts to reflect actual revenues.
Despite a continued need for additional budget cuts, there is good news to be reported about the state of our economy. I’m happy to let you know that we have kept our budget balanced while lowering taxes. Our per capita spending of government money is 17 percent less than it was one decade ago, and we currently have 9,000 fewer state employees than we did five years ago. We have continually increased the Rainy Day Fund, or Revenue Shortfall Fund, to the current total of $378 million, and in the past ten years, our state has decreased more state tax collections per capita than any other state in the nation. Overall, our state continues to make steady progress as we emerge from the economic difficulties of the last several years.
Tuesday night at 7:00 PM I will hold another Online Town Hall meeting which you can watch at my website. Feel free to email your questions to me beforehand at firstname.lastname@example.org. You'll also be able to submit questions during the Town Hall on my website. Watch the video from my 1/14/13 Online Town Hall meeting and I hope you can join me again on January 29th.
Please feel free to contact me anytime if I can be of assistance. I'm honored to serve you at the Capitol and covet your prayers and support.