Opinion

March 19, 2013

Rep. Bruce Broadrick: State representatives examine Senate bills

We returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, March 11, to begin our 31st legislative day of the 2013 session. With day 30, known as “Crossover Day,” behind us, bills passed by the state Senate have now “crossed over” for consideration by the House. This means that we will spend the last 10 legislative days of the session debating and voting on Senate bills and resolutions that have already passed the Senate. Before Senate bills can make their way to the House floor, however, they must first go through the House committee process. Just as we spent the first few weeks of session in committee meetings examining House legislation, this week we spent much of our time in committee meetings examining Senate legislation.

One of the few bills to make it to the House floor for a vote this week was House Bill 106, the fiscal year 2014 (FY 14) state budget. Although most House bills cannot be considered in the House after Crossover Day, an exception is made for the state budget since it is the only legislation that the state constitution requires the General Assembly to approve each year. The FY 14 state budget totals $19,864,261,481 in state funds, a number set by the governor’s forward-looking 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.

The House version of HB 106 gives the lion’s share of the additional $539 million to education, which will net $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 of Georgia 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 under the House version of HB 106. This will mean an added $174.5 million for the Department of Community Health and its attached agencies, $17.7 million for Behavioral Health, and $4.6 million for Public Health. In addition to this funding from revenue growth, the House version of HB 106 restores $13.8 million of proposed cuts to community health care 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 health care 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 revenue will be distributed throughout Georgia’s other state agencies, who have all had to enact 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 the Georgia Bureau of Investigation 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 House version of the FY 14 state 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.

Like all legislation, the FY 2014 state budget must still be considered by the state Senate. This means that HB 106 may change as we work alongside our Senate counterparts.  As this process continues, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding our state. You can reach me at my capitol office at (404) 656-0202 or by email at Bruce.Broadrick@house.ga.gov.

Thank you for allowing me to serve the 4th District as your representative.

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