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Georgia Governor Tells Agencies to Hold Line on Spending

Despite a record surplus, agencies have been told not to expect the extra money in their budgets. Republican legislators want to cut taxes while Democrats support expanded Medicaid and investments in education.

(TNS) — Despite record surplus, Kemp issues strict order on budgets.

Georgia has plenty in the bank after racking up a record $3.2 billion revenue increase during the past fiscal year, and indicators point to a growing economy.

But Gov. Brian Kemp has told most state agencies not to bother putting their hand out. That extra money won't find its way into their budgets.

Of course, there are exceptions.

Much of the funding for education and health care programs is based on enrollment. It's a pretty simple formula: More students or more patients equal more money.

By bureaucratic standards, Kemp's budget director, Kelly Farr, was practically giddy in his instructions to state agencies.

"As we continue to see increasing economic activity, strong consumer demand and continued unemployment declines, we expect our economy to see solid growth through the current fiscal year and into fiscal year 2023 (which starts July 1)," he wrote.

But even after dishing out that good news, he told the agencies not to seek additional funding.

The governor will use the agencies' plans to build the budget proposal he will present to the General Assembly in January.

Of course, others will have input on the budget, especially as the state heads into an election year, and Kemp has his own priorities.

When he first ran for governor in 2018, Kemp promised teachers a $5,000 pay raise.

He got them $3,000 during his first legislative session after being elected. His plan to get them the remaining $2,000 was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and short recession that followed. So delivering on the promise in 2022 — at a cost to the state of more than $350 million a year in revenue — could be of utmost importance to the governor.

Republicans in the Legislature will likely seek tax cuts to boost their chances at the polls.

They're also expected to call for more spending on law enforcement, since the party has seized on rising crime in metro Atlanta as a major issue.

Democrats will come to the General Assembly in January with their own wishes for how to use the money, including a likely push to expand Medicaid.

Education will also be a top priority for Democrats, who point out that state budget cuts approved in June 2020 — during the heart of the pandemic — remain. The General Assembly backfilled about 60% of those school cuts earlier this year.

More is needed, said Georgia Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D- Stone Mountain.

"While the governor has partially restored pre-pandemic budget levels, Georgia still falls short in educational investment," Butler said. "The jobs of tomorrow are built on the education opportunities of today."

Budget writers, however, say schools should be in good financial shape because they have received billions of dollars in federal aid during the pandemic.

(c)2021 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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