Georgia Senate backs mid-year budget after restoring some of Gov. Kemp’s spending cuts

July 11, 2019 Atlanta : The United States and State of Georgia flags flew half-staff at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday July 11, 2019 after Governor Kemp signed an executive order in memory of Hall County deputy Nicolas Dixon who was shot and killed. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The Georgia Senate backed a midyear budget Wednesday that restores funding for everything from public health grants, mental health services and efforts to train doctors to local library materials.

The Senate, like the House, pushed back on many of the proposed cuts that would impact small-town Georgia, a key constituency in a chamber largely run by lawmakers from outside metro Atlanta.

Like the House, the Senate voted to make major changes to Kemp's proposal to cut millions from this year's budget, The Senate and House will now negotiate a final spending plan for the rest of fiscal 2020, which ends June 30.

Kemp ordered state agencies in August to prepare plans for 4% budget cuts this fiscal year and 6% next year to both respond to slow tax collections last year and provide enough money for the governor's priorities, including a $2,000 teacher pay raise and his effort to combat gangs.

About three-fourths of the budget --money that goes to k-12 schools, colleges, the health program Medicaid and transportation -- was exempted from reductions.

The House and Senate agreed to mitigate some of the cuts.

Hill said the midyear budget would cut $159 million in spending and leave 1,255 vacant positions unfilled.

Kemp's proposal to eliminate vacant state positions has been controversial, with lawmakers saying some of them -- including crime lab scientists and guards in the juvenile justice system -- need to be filled.

Both chambers voted to restore funding for some of the positions, including public defenders, lab workers and Department of Agriculture food safety inspectors.

Both chambers rejected Kemp's proposal to cut funding to accountability courts. The courts, which were greatly expanded by his predecessor, allow defendants to avoid prison time if they stay sober, get treatment, receive an education and find a job. The courts are set up for drug addicts, drunken drivers, the mentally ill and veterans who've been charged largely with nonviolent crimes and low-level offenses, and they have been highly popular with lawmakers.

Both chambers said no to Kemp's cuts in funding for preparing doctors at the Morehouse School of Medicine and Mercer University's medical school, and to his proposed reduction to the Rural Health Systems Innovation Center at Mercer, a project lawmakers started a few years ago to help improve health care in rural Georgia.

They also reduced cuts that Kemp proposed for mental health programs and eliminated reductions for local library materials.Senate budget writers pushed back on

Kemp's proposal to cut $6.3 million in grants to county public health departments.

Like the House, after months of hand-wringing over the impact of Kemp's proposed spending cuts, Senate budget writers supported spending $250,000 to refit cars on a short-line tourist excursion train in southwest Georgia.

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