Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday signed a spending plan that carries the state through June, restoring hundreds of millions of dollars for public schools, providing a bonus for 57,000 state employees and additional public health funding.
The updated $26.6 billion spending plan comes as state spending and revenues fared much better than projected after lawmakers slashed the governor’s initial proposed budget by $2.2 billion when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Georgia last year.
The mid-year budget provides $27 million more to overhaul the state information management system that’s struggling with the high volume of COVID-19 vaccination data, replenishes roughly $570 million for public education, and sets aside $57 million to pay a $1,000 bonus to state employees earning $80,000 or less.
Kemp credited the state in navigating a challenging economy caused by a pandemic that has cost the lives of about 14,000 Georgians.
The additional spending comes without having layoffs, furloughing employees or raising taxes, the governor said while joined at the state Capitol for the ceremonial signing Monday by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, chief budget writers Sen. Blake Tillery and Rep. Terry England and GOP caucus leaders.
“Standing here one year ago, none of us would’ve known the challenge that this year would bring us,” Kemp said. “We didn’t know that a once in a lifetime global pandemic was just days from reaching our borders and threatening the lives and livelihoods of our people.
“Working together, leaders of the General Assembly worked with our team to take swift action to protect lives and mitigate the virus’s impact on our economy, as well as our communities,” Kemp added.
After wrapping up revisions to the spending plan first approved last June, lawmakers are now able to debate the $27 billion spending plan for next year Kemp unveiled in January.
Also included in the amended budget are $20 million for rural broadband grants and a boost for the state’s underfunded public health system, including money to hire a chief medical officer and deputy commissioner.
State Democratic leaders have criticized Republicans who oversaw the budget writing revisions for not fully reversing the $900 million cut from education spending last year and not providing more resources for health care. Democrats say the Republican-controlled Legislature should dip into the state’s historically high $2.7 billion reserves or cut back on special interest tax breaks.
Duncan said Georgia is in a better situation than many other cash-strapped states after reversing a portion of the 10% statewide cuts lawmakers made last June. But challenges remain as lawmakers work on the next budget that starts July 1.
“There’s no doubt that the coronavirus is still raging and that this pandemic will continue to have consequences both physically and financially for Georgians from coast to coast,” he said. “While Georgia shows its strength and resilience throughout this pandemic, the fight is not over yet.”