Update from Under the Gold Dome: Week Two

This week was dedicated to budget hearings under the Gold Dome. The Senate and House held joint appropriations committee meetings to hear proposals for the Amended Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) – House Bill 30 – and General Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) – House Bill 31 –budgets from Governor Brian P. Kemp and numerous state agencies. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I was interested to hear their proposals and what they see as the best ways to utilize taxpayer dollars. These proposals will now go to the House for their consideration. As the budgets work their way through the legislative process, I will work with my colleagues to ensure decisions are made with a fiscally conservative approach in mind.

The highlights of the proposed Amended FY19 budget which totals around $26.9 billion are as follows:

  • $68.8 million in one-time funding for school security grants. This total amount will be appropriated at $30,000 per school statewide.
  • $35.7 million additional (over $14.0 million base) towards the Forestland Protection Act grant so that counties and local systems can be repaid.
  • $8.4 million to support counselors for mental health services in high schools. This would be appropriated through Georgia Apex Program within Behavioral Health.

The highlights of the proposed FY20 budget which totals around $27.5 billion are as follows:

  • $483 million for a $3,000 permanent pay increase for certified K-12 Georgia public school teachers.
  • $21.3 million to the Teachers Retirement System to ensure employer contributions are met.
  • $66.9 million in additional funding for the HOPE Scholarship for public colleges.
  • $32.6 million of new funds within the Department of Transportation to address resurfacing and capital projects.

As chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, chairman of the Appropriations Committee Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee and a champion for our law enforcement community, I am happy to see two proposals in the Amended FY19 budget that would appropriate funding to those who put their lives on the line to protect us every day. First, a $270,000 one-time cost to establish the Office of Public Safety Support within the Department of Public Safety. This office is a result of House Bill 703 which became law earlier this year. I was honored to carry this legislation in the Senate which allows public safety officers who are also trained as counselors to provide peer-to-peer counseling services to fellow officers coping with PTSD or other related traumas as a result of his or her service in the line of duty. Additionally, the Amended FY19 budget includes a one-time payment totaling around $340,000 to ensure annual leave payouts for retiring law enforcement officers. I fully support proposals like these which help support our public safety community.

Last week, in his State of the State address, Governor Kemp touched on the dire gang crisis in Georgia, and his proposed budget reflects efforts to eliminate gangs and drug trafficking in our state. The General FY20 budget recommendation includes $500,000 in initial funds to form a gang taskforce which will be instrumental in our continued battle against criminal activity. I look forward to utilizing my role as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Safety to ensure that all necessary funding and important legislation is passed to protect all Georgians.

These are just a few of the highlights from both of the proposed budgets. The appropriations process is complex and takes time so please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any comments, concerns or questions. With our second week under the Gold Dome in the books, I can proudly say we are making progress. We are on track to achieve the goals we set before session began, and I look forward to continuing to serve my constituents and Georgians everywhere.