Gov. Deal’s budget includes more for education, ethics, Falcons parking

Gov. Nathan Deal released a $21.7 billion budget plan Friday that gives many teachers and state employees the chance to get small raises next year and spends another $23 million on parking near the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.

The first budget of governor’s second term boosts spending by about $900 million, with a sizable chunk of the money going for increased enrollment in schools and pay raises for teachers and state employees. Exactly how much the 200,000 state employees and teachers will receive will depend on their agencies and school districts.

The proposal would increase Department of Education funding by nearly 7 percent and reduce the austerity cuts to basic education spending - a constant in the state budget since the early 2000s - to their lowest levels since 2008.

It also includes about $70 million for what state officials say are the increased costs to Medicaid - the state health care program for the poor and disabled - brought on by the federal Affordable Care Act. And it nearly doubles funding for the state ethics commission, adding eight positions to the troubled agency.

The spending plan includes about $800 million in new construction projects, mostly for K-12 schools and colleges. The state will borrow $23 million for the new parking facilities, the second year in a row money was included for parking near the new stadium.

Lawmakers added $17 million to the budget at the end of the 2014 session to expand parking for Falcons fans. Officials had long promised that the state wouldn’t have to chip in for the $1.4 billion stadium. World Congress Center officials didn’t formally ask for the money until the final days of the session, so it got virtually no debate among lawmakers, most of whom didn’t find out about it until after the final budget deal had already been struck.

The $23 million will go toward finishing the project.

The governor’s budget proposal - which the House and Senate will now consider - provides little new money for transportation projects. That, however, can be added later if lawmakers come up with new transportation funding, as they are talking about doing.

Tax collections have been on the rise in recent years, but the state is only now taking in the revenue it was in 2007, before the Great Recession. Meanwhile, there are now thousands of more students in public schools, thousands more in state colleges, thousands more on Medicaid and other public programs.

The state budget that lawmakers will approve, probably sometime in late March or early April, touches a lot of lives.

The $21.7 billion the state will spend next year (more than $40 billion if federal and other revenue are included) helps educate about 2 million students and provide health and nursing care for more than 1.8 million Georgians. The state funds road improvements and prisons, economic development initiatives and cancer research, business and environmental regulation, parks and water projects. It creates thousands of private-sector jobs through construction projects.

State officials began cutting back in the late 2000s when the recession hit, with some agencies seeing budgets shrink 30 percent to 40 percent. While Deal tried to somewhat shield education —- k-12 schools took $1 billion in austerity cuts some years, forcing local school boards to raise property taxes, furlough and lay off teachers, and shorten the school year.

The governor’s proposal for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, would give school districts about $280 million to cut or eliminate teacher furloughs, increase class days and give raises. Local school districts would get to decide how to spend that money.

State agencies would get a 1 percent payroll boost to offer raises to employees.

The governor’s budget proposal this year includes the $25,000 pay raises requested by members of the state Supreme Court and Appeals Court and the $15,000 raises requested by Superior Court judges. Under state law, the governor must pass on the courts’ recommendations without making changes, whether he supports them or not.

The proposed raises, if approved, would dwarf increases given to other state employees.

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