Lawmakers hear warning of HOPE Scholarship reductions


According to a presentation made Jan. 9 by the Georgia Student Finance Commission to a Joint Economic Development & Tourism Committee, students receiving the HOPE Scholarship could see a 38 percent reduction in their HOPE benefits over the next three years.

Because of a widening gap between Georgia Lottery revenues and college tuition costs, HOPE scholars can expect to have significantly higher out-of-pocket costs by 2015. A typical University of Georgia student, lawmakers were told, would have to pay $2,732 in expenses every semester, with the remaining $2,461 covered by HOPE.

Because of the problem, Georgia Lottery officials discussed with legislators the possibility of permitting video lottery terminals at several locations around the state as a means of increasing revenues for HOPE.

Georgia Lottery President Margaret DeFrancisco told lawmakers she does not believe the current menu of games can provide a significant enough increase in revenue to meet the demand of lottery-funded education programs.

According to Lottery Board Chairman James Braswell, the agency will not add video lottery terminals without a broader discussion with the public and elected officials.

On Jan. 10, Gov. Nathan Deal appeared before a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate to deliver his annual State of the State message, which included top initiatives from his legislative agenda and his proposal for a fiscal year 2013 state budget totaling $19.2 billion.

For the first time in four years, state revenue collections are up by approximately 7 percent over last year, and the governor’s budget proposal reflects an increase of some $700 million. This will enable the state to make significant investments in economic development programs to create more jobs, while restoring some funding to education and healthcare, two areas that have been hit hard by budget cuts in recent years.

Gov. Deal is proposing three specific tax incentives for job creation: eliminating the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, sales tax exemptions for construction material used in projects of regional significance and restructuring the state’s Job Tax Credits programs. Other economic development proposals include a “Go Build Georgia” program steering young workers toward construction jobs and skilled trade industries and $46 million for deepening the Port of Savannah so that it can accommodate newer and larger ships.

The governor’s budget priorities for education include adding back 10 days to the pre-kindergarten school year, which restores half of the 20 days that had to be cut last year; $257.9 million to accommodate increased enrollment in K-12 schools, the University System and technical colleges; $55 million to fund salary increases for teachers based on training and experience; $20 million toward a need-based college scholarship program and $8.7 million to assist charter schools that have not been approve by their local school boards.

The governor's healthcare budget plans include $5 million to help the Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta become the state's second designated cancer center, alongside Winship Cancer Center at Emory Hospital, as well as funding for 400 residency slots in hospitals across the state.

The General Assembly will be in official recess beginning Jan. 16 for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, followed by three days of Appropriations Committee hearings on the budget. The full legislature will return to the Capitol on Jan. 23. As always, I am at your service. Please contact me with your views and concerns about any of the issues we will be addressing at the State Capitol during this upcoming session.

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