James Magazine Mar Apr 2020 - Page 54



n January 2020 Gov. Brian Kemp presented
two budgets: the amended budget for fiscal
year (FY) 2020 that adjusts spending levels for the current fiscal year, and the full FY 2021 budget that
details spending for the next fiscal year which
begins July 1, 2020. The amended FY 2020 budget includes more then $210 million in agency
cuts, and the FY 2021 budget includes approximately $300 million in cuts across most
state government agencies.
Because the Georgia constitution
requires a balanced budget each year, the
governor requested the cuts in the
face of a slowing economy, recent
changes in Georgia tax policy, as
well as increased spending in mandated growth areas and gubernatorial
priorities. In 2018, the Georgia legislature passed changes to the state tax code
that reduced Georgia’s revenue stream by
approximately $500 million. To compensate for
that loss of revenue, experts calculated that Georgia’s
economy would need to grow by approximately 2.5 percent each year to meet revenue demands. However, during the first quarter of the current fiscal year, revenue collections were flat and fell short of the 2.5 percent goal. In
fact, during the first six months of FY 2020 tax collections
were $30 million below where they were during the same
time frame the previous year.
In addition to the slowing economy and reduced tax
revenue, the work of balancing the budget has also been
challenged by increased spending priorities and enrollment growth. The FY 2021 budget includes $1.1 billion
in new spending above the state’s current obligations.
Of that, $600 million is being allocated to cover costs of
rising enrollment in K-12 and post-secondary education programs, as well as health care enrollments in
Medicaid and PeachCare. Remaining committed to
his $5,000 teacher pay raise campaign promise,
Gov. Kemp has also allocated $363 million to
increase the base salary for certified teachers
by $2,000 and $1,000 for non-certified personnel currently making less than $40,000.
Kemp’s proposed cuts have been
met with resistance by many lawmakers
who say the cuts go too far. In fact, on
February 5, legislators announced they
were taking a week and a half off so
House members could focus exclusively on the budget. In a letter to House
members, Speaker David Ralston told his
colleagues to suspend all scheduled committee meetings that aren’t related to the budget
over the next week and a half and focus all “time and
energies on this important work.”
To be sure, legislators are hesitant to make many of
the agency cuts that are being proposed— especially
during an election year. However, Georgia must find
more revenue to support current priorities and avoid
cutting necessary programs. As Georgia’s population
increases, enrollment growth will only continued on page 56
MARCH/APRIL 2020
55

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