Deal signs midyear budget while Georgia House backs one for next year

Gov. Nathan Deal signed a midyear state budget Friday that will add $400 million in new spending over the next few months, mostly for schools and public health programs but also for beach renourishment efforts and local airport runway extensions.

Deal signed the measure in Polk County on the same day the Georgia House passed a record $26 billion budget for fiscal 2019, which begins July 1.

That vote gives the Senate a few weeks to pass its own spending plan and work toward an agreement with the House on a final deal before the session is scheduled to end March 29. Lawmakers must approve a fiscal 2019 budget before they leave town.

The midyear budget got a big boost last week when Deal added more than $100 million in spending because the state is seeing a surge in tax collections. 

The Department of Revenue announced Friday that collections were up 4.8 percent last month over February 2017, and that the tax take has improved 6.1 percent during the first eight months of the fiscal year.

The midyear budget is traditionally used to provide extra money to pay for increased school and public health care program enrollment and costs, and this year’s was no different.

But it also has $60.7 million for forestland protection grants, $15.7 million for school buses, $26 million for airport runway extensions, $10 million for beach renourishment to deal with damage done by recent hurricanes and another $10 million for technical college equipment.

“With this amended budget, we are investing in our priorities and addressing critical issues for Georgia citizens,” Deal said.

Later Friday, the Georgia House voted 155-14 for a new budget for the upcoming year.

The measure doesn’t include any pay raises for 200,000 teachers and state employees, although it does give a bonus of up to $900 to state retirees. Members of the Employees Retirement System haven’t received a cost-of-living raise in several years.

The House added $8 million in grants to local school districts to beef up security following last month’s massacre at a Florida school.

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, is hoping the Senate ups it to $16 million.

Much of the budget the House approved follows the proposal Deal made in January.

About one-third of new state spending — $361 million — would go to improve the financial stability of Georgia’s teacher pension system. Most of the rest would fund increased k-12 and college enrollment and growth in public health care programs.

Under the plan, the state would borrow more than $1 billion for construction projects, well over half of it for k-12 schools and college buildings.

Included is $35 million for a research building at the University of Georgia and $30.6 million to renovate the Price Gilbert Library and Crosland Tower complex at Georgia Tech.

It also includes $5 million to design a convocation center that Georgia State University wants to build. The $80 million project will include classrooms and convocation facilities, and it will provide a new home court for GSU’s basketball team.

The budget plans also include $23.5 million for a new health sciences building at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta.

The House added $6.25 million for construction and renovations of the Stone Mountain Inn and Evergreen Conference Center and Resort at Stone Mountain Park.

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