2014 budget, Senate legislation on House members' agenda
With only six legislative days remaining in the 2013 session of the General Assembly, last week’s activities in the House of Representatives took place primarily at the committee level, examining legislation that had been approved by the Senate earlier in the session. A handful of Senate bills made it to the House floor by the end of the week.
The same process was taking place with the Senate taking a look at House legislation. I am pleased to report that amended versions of three House bills that I co-sponsored made it through the Senate and received final approval by the House. Going to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature are HB 198, which would provide for the licensing of health insurance navigators under the health insurance exchange provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; HB 202, which would modify Department of Transportation requirements for performing value engineering studies and allocating federal and state funds for highway projects; and HB 254, which would allow motorists to present proof of auto insurance electronically on their smartphones in lieu of presenting an insurance card.
The most significant bill making it to the House floor for a successful vote last week was HB 106, the annual state budget for fiscal year 2014. The FY 14 state budget totals $19,864,261,481 in state funds, a number set by the Governor’s revenue estimate. This budget will direct spending for all state agencies, departments, and programs from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014.
While the $19.8 billion state budget reflects an increase of $539 million in state revenues, this is only a slight 2.78 percent increase from the FY 2013 amended state budget. This increase allowed us to partially restore some important programs in the FY 2014 budget, but the budget remains austere because state revenue growth is increasing at a very modest rate. State agencies are still working to do more with less. In fact, when adjusted for inflation to 2012 dollar values, our state is spending 17 percent less per capita than it was a decade ago. And there are 9,000 fewer state employees than there were five years ago.
HB 106 gives the lion’s share of the additional $539 million to education, which will net an additional $268.8 million. That includes an increase of $236 million for K-12 education and another $13.5 million for Pre-Kindergarten, part of which will allow Georgia Pre-K to add 10 more days to its school year. The FY 14 state budget also fully funds Quality Basic Education (QBE) enrollment growth of 1.4 percent for 23,922 new students, as well as training and experience pay raises for teachers.
The House version of the budget also reflects the State Education Finance Study Commission’s recommendations for increased state support of school nurses and professional development for school administration. Additionally, the FY 14 state budget increases HOPE Scholarships and Grants by 3 percent for the more than 200,000 HOPE recipients, and restores $6 million to allow the Technical College System to maintain teaching faculty that will be needed for its anticipated 9,000 new students.
The second largest increase in state funding will go to Georgia’s health and human services agencies, which will net an additional $197.8 million. This will mean an added $174.5 million for the Department of Community Health and its attached agencies, including the Medicaid program, $17.7 million for Behavioral Health, and $4.6 million for Public Health. In addition to this funding from revenue growth, HB 106 restores $13.8 million of proposed cuts to community healthcare providers, like nursing homes, $528,871 for 17 Family Service Worker positions who provide direct Elder Living care, and $484,559 for Alzheimer’s and Respite Services.
The budget also includes funding for two new health centers that will provide hypertension treatment, in addition to providing existing healthcare services. Moreover, the FY 14 budget provides $4.8 million for the first payment increase in 10 years for foster care service providers who watch over the more than 2,200 special needs foster children in the state who have significant physical, emotional and behavioral needs.
The remaining $72.4 million in added state funding will be distributed throughout Georgia’s other state agencies, all of which have had to sustain major budget cuts over the last five years as a result of the economic recession. These funds, along with other parts of the state budget, will allow these agencies to better serve Georgians. For example, the House version of the FY 14 state budget would increase road project funding by $42.1 million. It would also provide $8.1 million for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority to keep the Xpress buses running throughout the 13-county metro Atlanta area that draws riders from 40 counties. It further adds $4.3 million to help GBI and Natural Resources retain experienced, certified personnel by providing competitive salaries. Additionally, the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission is fully funded with an increase to maintain database enhancements.
The budget also includes a bond package that totals $785.1 million. Of the total bond package, the House appropriated 72 percent for K-12 education, higher education and public libraries. This includes $244.1 million in funding for K-12 construction, vocational equipment and new school buses statewide. This figure also includes $7 million for technology infrastructure upgrades at local school systems. This funding is the first step in ensuring that our schools are prepared to deliver a 21st century education. The bond package also includes $321.9 million for both the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia to maintain and repair existing facilities as well as to build and equip new classrooms and lab space to meet the needs of a growing student population.
The House also designated 20 percent of the bond package for economic development purposes. These state bonds will help fund reservoirs, local water and sewer construction, and deepening the Savannah Harbor – a project that is vital to both Georgia’s and the nation’s economy. Finally, the remaining 8 percent of the bond package will largely go to public safety agencies for renovations and improvements at Georgia National Guard armories, state prisons and juvenile facilities statewide.
HB 106 will go to the Senate for its consideration when lawmakers return to session March 20. As always, please contact me with your views on the issues or whenever I can be of service.