A teacher shares her guilt when she hears the raises promised to educators by the governor are precipitating a budget crunch that could cause vital services to be cut. But are the raises the real problem?
Photo: AJC File
Photo: AJC File

Teacher: Are our raises coming at expense of other critical state services? 

Melissa Giggey teaches at West Hall High School in Oakwood. In a guest column today, Giggey talks about the discomfort she and other teachers feel when they hear their promised raises are causing state workers and agencies to face cutbacks.

The Legislature funded a $3,000 pay raise for teachers last year, a downpayment on Gov. Brian Kemp’s campaign promise of a $5,000 raise. Kemp wants the remaining $2,000 this year, but there is dissent.

As the AJC recently reported:

After getting the General Assembly to back a raise last year, Brian Kemp is pushing for another $2,000 to complete a 2018 campaign pledge.

But fellow Republican and state House Speaker David Ralston has his own goals for the 2021 budget and has said a raise for teachers may have to wait. The state likely cannot afford both that and an income tax cut that many lawmakers want.

Giggey wonders: Are teacher raises the problem or the proposed tax break

By Melissa Giggey 

I am a 15-year veteran Georgia teacher who was pleased -- along with my colleagues --when Gov. Brian Kemp proposed a long overdue pay raise that recognized teachers’ contributions to Georgia’s growth. However, I am aware of the current struggle to balance Georgia’s budget; to give teachers their promised pay raises and support the funding for mental health services or health care.

When I listen to legislators telling other departments to cut their budgets, I feel guilty. I have a teacher's disposition after all. Teachers are empathetic and caring. Every year we spend our own money to support our students in the classroom. I worry that important safety net programs that protect Georgians will suffer in the next year because I am getting more money.

I would have stood up in the Legislature and forfeited my share of the money if I knew it was needed to help others. Am I advocating for less money? No. But I wonder, where else can budget cuts come from? Whose greed is causing such strife?

The problem is the governor’s pay raises this year are being accompanied by a proposed income tax rate cut, a double whammy of sorts that has triggered desperate lobbying by organizations and agencies at risk of seeing valuable programs slashed.

The current budget has been approved with most programs funded, but now Republican legislators are proposing to reduce state income tax rates for a second time in two years, contending it will stimulate economic growth.

Melissa Giggey

I agree with Kemp’s assessment that superfluous expenses to be cut. He proposed “aligning existing resources” to “streamline operations, eliminate duplicative programs, and leverage technology.” 

“With conservative budgeting and common-sense cost savings, we can prioritize these much-needed investments. I am grateful for the General Assembly’s shared commitment to these objectives, and I applaud state agency leaders for finding new ways to run more efficiently without sacrificing quality,” he said.

However, some of the agencies asked to reduce costs were the Department of Agriculture’s consumer protection division, the Department of Justice, Veteran Administration services, and the Department of Public Health’s division of mental health. 

Is the struggle over balancing Georgia’s budget and the proposed income tax cuts about empathy and the needs of Georgians or is it about greed and selfishness? 

The health department employees, the food inspectors and the VA clinic workers are like most teachers, empathic people who think of those they serve and often go above and beyond to help.

They and the important services they provide to Georgia will suffer from the income tax cut. The argument is that the income tax cuts lead people to buy more, which, in turn, increases the sales tax revenue coming into the state coffers. 

If that were the case, why would we need  deeps cuts to essential services if the tax cuts create more disposable income, which then bolsters sales tax revenue? Shouldn’t the increased sales tax revenue offset the loss of income tax revenue? 

The truth is many teachers will use their pay raises to supplement programs and classroom needs the Georgia Legislature fails to support. Just as teachers will continue to put their pay raises back into their classroom, mental health professionals will continue to help support low-income; mentally ill Georgians and clinic workers will work extra hours to help veterans.

These professions also draw people for whom self-sacrifice is second nature. But why do our legislators force them to sacrifice? 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.