Georgia House rejects some of governor’s proposed budget cuts

    The state Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday voted to largely follow the lead of House colleagues, spending more than the governor recommends for county public health departments, public defenders, educational loan repayments for rural health workers and other priorities. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

    Georgia’s House is set to vote Wednesday on a short-term spending plan to pay for state services through June. 30.

    And House members aren’t supportive of many of the cuts proposed by Gov. Brian Kemp to mental health, training for future rural doctors, accountability courts and other line items department heads set for elimination in an effort to trim spending.

    “Those are and have been priorities of the General Assembly, the House and the Senate, and we feel very strongly about making sure those efforts continue,” said Georgia House Appropriations Chairman Terry England on Tuesday, just after his committee approved adjustments to the state’s spending plan for the next four months.

    The House adjustments propose more money than the governor does for public defenders, state public health grants, behavioral health and some other departments.

    The resulting amended House budget for the 2020 fiscal year is $27.4 billion, just as it is in the governor’s version. The full House chamber is set to vote on the committee’s recommendation Wednesday and then state senators get a chance to leave their mark on the spending plan. 

    England, an Auburn Republican, said the House recommends defunding vacant positions, delaying implementation of some programs and other efficiencies in order to reverse some of the governor’s suggested cuts.

    Atlanta Democrat state Rep. Scott Holcomb said he’s encouraged by the House restoration of funds to the GBI’s crime lab, though he’s not sure it has all the money it needs to clear a backlog of rape evidence kits that need to be analyzed.

    He also joined colleagues to endorse spending about $2 million more for public defenders than Kemp’s draft budget.

    “I think the House is sending a very strong message there that on issues of justice, we want to make sure that there is a fair playing field,” Holcomb said.

    State Rep. Katie Dempsey chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for behavioral health and developmental disabilities services. The House draft budget restores some spending that the governor proposed cutting, which the Rome Republican said will protect some core and crisis services.

    Dempsey said those are some strides she hopes to continue to make in the spending plan for the next budget year that will begin in July. Some hearings are already underway on the governor’s fiscal year 2021 proposal for $28.1 billion in spending.

    Last August, Kemp ordered department heads to cut spending by 4% in their revised 2020 budgets and by 6% in their 2021 spending plans.

    “It’s going to be harder, the cuts are deeper as proposed,” Dempsey said.

    The governor, state House and state Senate each propose budgets during the state’s annual legislative session. They must come to an agreement for the session to end, which usually occurs by early April. Some lawmakers expect this year’s General Assembly to meet well into April this time.

    Maggie Lee
    Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008. Her written work and data journalism has appeared in online and print outlets including The (Macon) Telegraph, Creative Loafing and SaportaReport.com.