ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia House budget writers support Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to give $2,000 raises to state employees, but want to double the raise for state law enforcement officers, increasing their pay by $4,000.
In education, they’re rejecting the Republican governor’s plan to end the current two-tier system of college scholarships and pay full college tuition for all eligible students. They want high school students who earned only a B average to continue to pay a small percentage of their tuition.
Those are two of the biggest changes in the budget that the House Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to approve. House Bill 19 also emphasizes paying higher reimbursement rates to health care providers and expanding opportunities to train new health care workers.
The full House is expected to debate the spending plan Thursday.
“With the increased attention to law enforcement and what they do, we believe that an increase is justified,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Matt Hatchett, a Dublin Republican.
The budget would spend $32.4 billion in state money in the 2024 year beginning July 1. Counting federal and other money, the state would spend more than $61 billion. Both figures are down slightly from this year. The state ended last year with $6.6 billion in surplus cash, but Kemp hasn’t outlined plans to spend most of that.
Georgia’s budget pays to educate 1.75 million K-12 students and 465,000 college students, house 48,000 state prisoners, pave 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers) of highways and care for more than 200,000 people who are mentally ill, developmentally disabled or addicted to drugs or alcohol.
All state and university employees and public school teachers would get $2,000 pay increases, but Hatchett said the state needs to further boost pay to state troopers and other officers by $13 million to compete with what cities, counties and neighboring states offer.
Hatchett said House members wrote in $3 million more for state Forestry Commission employees and $2.3 million more for employees who issue driver licenses, driven by similar needs to compete for workers.
The House would spend $1.25 million to create a state police post in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, a state response to crime concerns in the affluent area after Kemp and lawmakers rejected a proposal to allow Buckhead residents to vote on seceding from Atlanta.
House budget writers also propose money for a new Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate cold cases, for more forensic scientists to analyze gun and drug evidence and for sexual assault nurse examiners.
Hatchett said House members bucked Kemp to keep the two-tier system of HOPE Scholarships because students who meet the tougher requirements for Zell Miller scholarships should “be awarded at a different level” because “they worked hard during high school.”
Currently, regular HOPE recipients who graduate high school with a B average get 90% of tuition. The House plan would pay 95%, but not all of tuition, as Kemp proposed. Zell Miller recipients would keep getting full tuition.
The House would use savings from spending less on scholarships to public colleges to boost HOPE Scholarship payments to private colleges by $15 million and to pay higher health insurance costs for prekindergarten teachers employed by public school districts.
The House would double spending, to $20 million, on a new program covering the financial need of college students close to completing a two-year or four-year degree. Representatives would increase funding to technical colleges for teaching nursing, truck driving and aviation.
The budget would also increase Medicaid payments to health care providers so they can increase worker pay.
“As y’all all know, inflation is real,” Hatchett said. “We have a lot of agencies and people who help our citizens through this state that are competing for workers, as is everyone.”
In another recognition of inflation, the House wants to again give $500 bonuses for 54,000 retirees in the state Employees Retirement System, as lawmakers first approved this year. Retirees in that plan don’t get regular cost of living increases.
Representatives would also mandate $35 million in spending on various mental health programs, part of a push to increase services. Georgia would create 375 more slots to pay for home services for people with intellectual, developmental, or physical disabilities. The state funded 500 this year, but still has thousands on a waiting list.
Georgia would spend $2.8 million to offer routine dental services to adults on Medicaid. Now, only emergency dental services are paid for.
The state would also send another $20 million from gas taxes to cities and counties for roadwork. Hatchett said that’s part of a five-year plan to increase local road funding from $200 million to $300 million.
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