Georgia House seals the deal on new $26.2 billion budget

The Georgia House gave final approval to a $26.2 billion state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, sending it to Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday for his signature.

The spending plan is somewhat historic: For the first time since 2002, it includes full funding of the k-12 school formula, thanks to a growing Georgia economy that is bringing in record tax revenue.

By law, the only bill lawmakers must pass each session is a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The Senate passed the measure Tuesday.

So-called “austerity cuts” in the Quality Basic Education formula for k-12 school funding have been a political thorn in Deal’s side since he took office in 2011. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, they topped $1 billion a year — money that was supposed to go to schools but didn’t because of cutbacks at the statehouse.

Deal whittled it down for several years to about $166.7 million. When he sent lawmakers a letter stating the revenue estimate for the upcoming year would rise this week, the first thing he recommended the money go to was wiping out the rest of that deficit.

“It’s been something we’ve been working on for a mighty long time, and I’m glad to be standing here to tell you we’ve done it,” said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn.

The new budget deal also includes $100 million in borrowing for unspecified transit projects and $16 million in grants to k-12 systems to improve school safety in the aftermath of last month’s Florida campus massacre.

Most of the more than $1 billion in new spending next year will go to schools, colleges and public health care programs. About $361 million will go to prop up the teacher retirement pension system.

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