Georgia House panel advances budget with funds for school security


Georgia legislative leaders are proposing funding $16 million in grants to local districts to beef up security following last month’s massacre at a Florida school.

House budget writers included $8 million in the spending plan for fiscal 2019 — which begins July 1 — that won committee approval Wednesday. House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, is hoping the Senate ups it to $16 million.

“As we saw the unfortunate events played out in Florida a couple of weeks ago now, we began realizing our schoolchildren in many cases are protected by those around them,” England said, “but sometimes their buildings may actually let them down a little bit by allowing too easy passage for individuals who intend to do harm.”

The Georgia House is expected to vote out the $26 billion budget for fiscal 2019 on Friday, and then the Senate will have a few weeks to pass its version and come to an agreement on a final spending plan. Lawmakers must approve a budget before they end the 2018 session later this month.

Much of the budget the House will approve follows the proposal Gov. Nathan Deal made in January, which did not include state-funded pay raises for 200,000 teachers or state employees.

The state expects to take in extra money in fiscal 2019 because of tax changes Congress made in December.

Lawmakers passed a bill last week to cut tax rates in hopes of eating up the federal windfall. But a fiscal accounting of the bill, House Bill 918, suggested the state will still see boosted revenue for the next few years before the tax cuts cut into collections.

Legislators can’t budget for that increase because Deal did not include the extra money in his revenue estimate for fiscal 2019. The governor estimated state revenue — the amount that can legally be spent — for the upcoming year well before the tax cut was approved, and he has urged lawmakers to wait for firmer numbers on the financial impact of the federal tax law.

Officials estimated the state will take in an extra $265 million from the federal tax change in 2019, even with House Bill 918.

Even without the federal windfall, the state expects to have more money to spend next year as the economy grows.

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.

Medicaid, which funds health care for more than 1.5 million Georgians, would receive an increase of more than $200 million in funding to pay for growth in the program and offset the loss of federal funds.

Both the Deal and House proposals also include more money to fund growth in child welfare and mental health programs, and autism and nursing home services.

The plans include $35 million more to deepen Savannah’s harbor to prepare for a new wave of ships docking at the bustling port.

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.

As in past years, the spending plans would also borrow $100 million to repair, replace and renovate bridges statewide.

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.

The proposal includes several pots of money for various rural economic development efforts, a pet project of House leaders, including $1.7 million to create a Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations.

The House proposal calls for state retirees to get a one-time bonus of up to $900. Lawmakers have included one-time bonuses in the budget the past two years for retirees, who have long gone without cost-of-living raises.

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