This week’s Courier Herald column:
On Friday, Georgia’s House of Representatives passed the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins July 1 of this year. Appropriations bills begin in the House under the stewardship of Chairman Terry England – a man who has learned to listen attentively and smile before saying “no” to many wish lists. After all, a $2.5 Billion rainy day fund doesn’t come about by a frequent habit of making it rain upon request.
This year’s proposed budget is $26 Billion, $1.03 Billion higher than FY 2018’s budget. This will renew the annual chestnut that we have a “one-billion-dollar surplus”, already being used by campaigns that hope you don’t understand Georgia’s budget process. For perspective, that’s 4% larger than last year’s budget. Given that the state is growing at about 1% population growth and consider inflation at 2-3% and a 4% growth is essentially holding at status quo.
That billion dollars doesn’t get spent with line items rising 4% across the board however. In fact, education will get 90% – 9 of every 10 dollars – in year over year revenue growth.
Expect quite a few headlines this year about teachers not getting pay raises. Teachers instead are getting a huge injection into the Teachers Retirement System to keep it within acceptable reserve standards. $361 Million will be injected into TRS this year alone.
The above paragraph should actually say “some teachers”, as Georgia’s teacher retirement system requires ten years to vest in the program. According to an August piece by Kyle Wingfield of the AJC, only one in 3 teachers break even with their contributions to TRS, with 4 of 5 expected to lose money on their contributions to the system.
For the defenders of the status quo education system, it needs to be pointed out repeatedly that the system is designed to reward career educators at the top end of the pay scale. At the same time, the system churns through lower paid entry level teachers who leave before being able to take full advantage of the system they contribute. Those who still say teachers are being short changed in this state need to ask the career education bureaucrats why they maintain a system that works for them, and leaves out more than two thirds of classroom teachers.
Recommendations from the House Rural Development Council were also incorporated into the House Budget, with 52 separate line items added or increased due to recommendations from the RDC. Many of these amounts are healthcare and/or mental health related, with increases to provider reimbursement rates and/or additional funding for services scarce in rural Georgia.
Transportation continues to get additional funding in the form of bonds, including $100 Million for the 4th year in a row for bridge and road repair. Additionally, $5.5 million will go toward upgrades for state owned short line railroads, and $35 Million is dedicated toward deepening the harbor for the Port of Savannah.
More than a half billion dollars is headed to the University System of Georgia under this budget. $111 Million is allocated based on enrollment growth. The largest part of this year’s bond package ($417 Million) is dedicated to construction projects for the USG. Other highlights from this section of the budget includes $4.4 Million to staff the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta, and $1.7 Million for the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations.
Other budget items see increases for programs in public safety, including additional funding to create accountability courts and to fund an additional school of state trooper cadets. An additional $6 Million is also added to the state’s public defender council.
The budget will now go to the State Senate where Senate Budget Chairman Jack Hill will shepherd a similar sized budget reflecting slightly differing priorities. The respective differences will be ironed out in a conference committee and then settled in a final budget before the legislature adjourns on March 29th.