House, Senate negotiators agree to $20.8 billion budget deal, extra pay for Senate staffers

Legislative budget negotiators agreed late Monday to a $20.8 billion budget for the upcoming year that plows more than $300 million extra into schools and gives some Senate staffers bigger pay raises than most other state employees and teachers.

Negotiators also added $14.5 million for emergency equipment to help beef up the state’s response following this winter’s ice and snow storms.

The agreement, signed by House and Senate budget conferees, will be on the chamber floors Tuesday for final approval. Passage of the budget is a major step toward ending the 2014 session on schedule Thursday.

Details of the deal were not immediately made public, but negotiators confirmed the budget for fiscal 2015 — which begins July 1 — includes the more than $300 million extra that Gov. Nathan Deal had proposed sending schools to eliminate furlough days for teachers, increase the number of school days and give raises. It also would provide 1 percent extra to agencies to allow for merit raises for state employees.

The House went along with a Senate proposal to give extra money to the Senate Budget Office and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s office to give larger pay raises to their employees.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this month that, based on 2013 payroll figures, the money approved for raises by the Senate would equal a 4.2 percent increase for the lieutenant governor’s office and 6.3 percent for the Senate Budget Office. House members traditionally do not make changes to the budget proposed by the Senate for its own chamber. Cagle is president of the Senate.

The budget plan backed by negotiators would also include more than $800 million in state borrowing for construction projects, including new college buildings and money for deepening the harbor in Savannah.

Not everyone was happy with the final product. Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said because of cuts House and Senate leaders made to his agency, his employees won’t get raises and he may have to lay off staffers. Butler’s agency has been severely cut back since Deal took office.