By Rep. Bill Hitchens
January 20, 2016 - The first week of the legislative session commenced with much activity including the Governor’s State of the State address, committee meetings, and planning sessions as we begin the task of deliberating the best legislation for the advancement of our state. It is easy to love living in Georgia and we have much for which to be thankful. We have a wonderful, mild climate, a variety of natural resources, historical landmarks that attract the admiration of locals and visitors, and hard-working, hospitable people. I will approach this legislative session as I have in the past: responsibly, earnestly, and always mindful of the privilege you have given me to serve you.
Governor Nathan Deal’s address outlined his proposals for this session and summed up his budget recommendations that will go before the legislature. He emphasized education reform and the importance of modernizing and improving our schools. We can all agree that we must give our children the best education available to them and it is simply unacceptable to have schools that are failing their standard evaluation.
The governor has proposed $300 million for K – 12 education including a 3% pay raise for teachers and public employees. His proposal includes using the QBE formula so that this increase does not get passed on to you in the form of a tax. Because some of these funds are earmarked by the federal government, this leaves only 17% for unrestricted spending. We will need to be deliberate in how we decide to spend this rather small amount of unrestricted funds.
As we move forward, the governor has asked legislators to carefully review and research recommendations made by an Education Reform Task Force appointed last year. Because this is so vital to the overall betterment of our state, including improving lives and strengthening the economy, the governor understands that this important task will take time to be done well. With this in mind, legislation regarding education reform will be ready for a vote in 2017.
The governor also addressed the rising cost of Medicaid. There has been a 15.7% increase for the cost of this program from last fiscal year to the current one. Had we elected to expand Medicaid, it would have cost an additional $209 million in the upcoming budget. Maintaining a balanced budget is one of the most difficult yet important items that legislators must address. We must maintain responsibility in this area and not fall into debt and I will always support a balanced budget.
The governor also noted that last year’s passage of the Transportation Bill allowed for the greatest infrastructure improvement in the history of Georgia. The Department of Transportation gave an overview of their plan which includes 60% of funding going toward much needed repairs and 40% for new projects. I will keep you informed as we learn more about specific projects and funding mechanisms for our roads, bridges, and interstate.
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