The Georgia state House has approved a new plan for next year’s $28.1 billion state budget –that cuts Gov. Brian Kemp proposed $2,000 teacher pay raise in half– by a vote of 134 to 35.
With that money, the house has added back in some of the proposed budget cuts in Kemp’s original plan, including a proposed $2.1 million cut to the state’s accountability courts, an $8.4 million cut to the state’s behavioral health services, and $2.4 million of proposed cuts to the state agriculture extension service.
Lawmakers added $24.7 million to fully fund the state’s mandated school counselor ratio for the first time. They also fit in an additional $19.7 million to expand Medicaid to all post-partum mothers for up to six months, from the current two months—an effort to address Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis.
“There may be more changes in this document than any budget you’ve ever seen. There are certainly more changes in this document than any budget I’ve ever seen,” said House Appropriations Chair Terry England Tuesday.
He pointed out that the vast majority state’s new revenue growth was initially proposed to be spent on the teacher raises.
“Although the Governor set an expectation of a $2,000 raise to the base salary to be funded in the coming year, the House had to balance this within the needs of our other state agencies and employees in the state,” he said. “As a Georgia taxpayer, this means we’re looking out for you outside the classroom as well.”
England said the House plans to revisit the additional $1,000 in next year’s budget.
The proposed pay raise wouldn’t be effective until Sept. 1, which means for the first year, it comes to just over $800, according to Stephen Owens, an analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
Georgia Association of Educators President Charlotte Booker said in a statement the group is “disappointed with the actions of the Appropriations Committee. Our teachers work extremely hard and are simply trying to catch up from years of no increase at all while having to deal with escalating medical and other costs.”
In a committee meeting Monday, England said he believed teachers would understand the change.
“It still, over the two-year period including the $3,000 [raise] last year, amounts to an 11.7% increase in base teacher salary,” he said. “Remember, we are charged with taking care of all 10.7 million residents in the state of Georgia.”
England explained the House also adjusted Kemp’s originally proposed $1,000 raise for all state employees making less than $40,000 per year. Lawmakers decided to give a 2% merit pay raise to state employees and targeted additional raises to state positions with high turnover rates like food safety inspectors and juvenile correctional officers.
Kemp’s original plan included the elimination of about 12,000 vacant positions. The House decided to retain about 200 of those in its changes.
The Department of Behavior Health and Developmental Disabilities was the recipient of about $30 million shuffled across the budget, compared to the governor’s originally proposed cuts. That included more than $5 million for more slots for Medicaid waivers supporting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and an $8.4 million restoration of a proposed cut to behavioral health services.
The plan also added $5.4 million in proposed cuts back into the budget for grants to county departments of public health.
“When we pass along this budget, what we are doing is passing up the chance to expand Medicaid expansion,” said Democratic Minority Leader Rep. Bob Trammell, who voted no with many other Democratic colleagues. “In this budget, we are paying a tab for a tax cut we gave in 2018,” he said, referencing one of the reasons for a shortfall in state revenues that caused the need for budget cuts.
The House could consider an additional state income tax rate cut Tuesday as well.
“I thank the House for their work on the budget, and I look forward to working with the Senate to pass a measure that invests in education, keeps Georgia families safe, and ensures prosperity in every region of our state,” said Kemp in a statement in response to the House’s changes.