The Georgia General Assembly has passed a nearly $26 billion state budget for the fiscal year 2021, featuring 10% budget cuts prompted by faltering state revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic. The about $2.2 billion in cuts constitute the largest to the state budget since the recession of 2008.
After a roller coaster of state revenue estimates in recent months, with agencies at one point contemplating 14% cuts, the budget does not include furloughs for any state employees. Gov. Brian Kemp also contributed $250 million from the state’s revenue shortfall reserve fund towards the budget.
“These unprecedented challenges hit all of us, our families and our constituents. You have passed a conservative budget that reflects our values,” said Gov. Kemp said Friday night. “Prioritizing education, health care and public safety, while confronting the challenges before us.”
“There were no easy decisions. There was nothing easy about that process,” said Republican state House appropriations chairman Terry England of the budget, which will go into effect July 1.
Public education will still lose about 10%, or nearly $1 billion in state funds, but in final negotiations lawmakers were able to restore previously-proposed cuts to school transportation as well as fully fund enrollment growth and sparsity grants to the state’s poorest schools.
England pointed out that $456 million in federal CARES Act dollars will also flow to Georgia schools, to help soften the blow.
In an effort to address Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis, the budget fully funds postpartum Medicaid coverage for mothers up to six months after giving birth, up from the current two months.
“Georgia and Georgians are resilient,” said Republican state Senate appropriations chairman Blake Tillery. “We will continue to weather this storm, and this budget process provides us with a way to meet the needs of the citizens of our state while also recognizing they have less money to spend, and we’re unwilling to take more money out of their pockets and paychecks.”
The budget includes a 10% pay cut for all state lawmakers and a 14% pay cut for Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan but does not account for a tax hike on tobacco products, which a bipartisan group of lawmakers have tried to push. Georgia has among the country’s lowest tobacco tax rates.
Lawmakers were able to restore a previously proposed $1.85 million cut to 13 vacant positions at the Department of Agriculture, including food safety and animal industry inspectors.
More than $91 million has been cut from Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, but budget writers were able to protect the Department of Public Health from much of the previously-contemplated $27 million cuts. The department will lose just over $8 million instead. The final version restores originally-proposed cuts to public health grants to county health departments and neutralizes much of the considered cuts to its epidemiology section.