By JEFF AMY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia state lawmakers have advanced plans to increase current-year spending by $2.7 billion, including paying state employees and teachers more.
The House Appropriations Committee approved House Bill 910 on Thursday, preparing it for a vote before the full House as early as Friday.
The measure includes $5,000 wage increases for university and state agency employees, $2,000 bonuses for teachers and $1,000 bonuses for other K-12 workers. , including school bus drivers, part-time employees and cafeteria employees. It also restores $383 million to the state’s K-12 funding formula that was cut when lawmakers feared a drop in revenue early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond spending, the document also establishes $1.6 billion in state income tax refunds.
Reviewing the current year‘s budget, which ends June 30, is an annual ritual for lawmakers. But this year sees a huge spending explosion, most of which Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and lawmakers want to keep in the next budget that begins July 1. Bonuses for teachers would become permanent salary increases next year, allowing Kemp to complete the $5,000 raises he promised teachers when he ran for governor in 2018.
“This year, revenue has done things we never imagined possible,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, a Republican from Auburn.
With $2.35 billion in excess cash even after filling the state savings account to its $4.3 billion legal limit, the House agrees with Kemp’s plan to give $1.6 billion in tax rebates in April – $250 for each person filing state income taxes, $375 for each single person heading a household and $500 for married people filing jointly .
The spending explosion comes as Kemp and lawmakers are up for election later this year.
As is often the case during the mid-year budget review, lawmakers clawed back some of the money the agencies didn’t spend and redirected it to other projects. Much of this money is being channeled into one-time expenditures that will replace money the state could have borrowed.
The House plan calls for spending $45 million this year to move employees from Public Building 2 Peachtree in downtown Atlanta to vacant offices in the Capitol complex. Officials say Building 2 Peachtree is too run down to merit renovation.
“The cost of bringing this building up to current standards far exceeds the value of this building, so it’s best to get our people out of there,” England said.
The state would also spend $29 million in cash to replace the roofs at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, $4.6 million to replace air conditioning and roofs at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, and $7 million for renovations. youth detention centers across the state. All that money would have been borrowed.
The budget also transfers $10 million in educational loans for mental health and addiction workers who would be forgiven if they worked in Georgia for a specific period, as part of a broader push this year by the president. of House Republican David Ralston of Blue Ridge to beef mental health services.
House leaders back Kemp’s plan to spend $432 million to buy a private prison and begin building a second prison, in a plan that also includes closing several former state prisons.
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