Kemp asks Georgia lawmakers to include $100 million in budget to deal with coronavirus

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday asked lawmakers to add $100 million in emergency funding to the mid-year budget to deal with coronavirus.

Kemp said he will raise the revenue estimate - increasing the amount of money the General Assembly can appropriate - by using state reserves, something that hasn’t been done since the Great Recession.

Kemp said the money would go to assist the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Public Health in their response efforts.

“I am requesting this funding out of an abundance of caution to ensure that we have all of the necessary medical personnel, equipment, and supplies to keep Georgians healthy and safe in the weeks ahead,” Kemp said.  “I look toward to working with lawmakers to secure this appropriation, and I deeply appreciate their support in this time of need for communities across Georgia.”

Kemp made the request as House and Senate negotiators were closing in on a deal on the mid-year budget for fiscal 2020, which ends June 30.

Under state law, the governor sets an estimate of how much lawmakers can appropriate. If he wants something big - like extra money for the coronavirus - he has to raise that estimate by essentially coming up with the extra money.

The state’s rainy day fund has about $2.8 billion in it, or enough to run state government for a month without additional revenue.

State officials said Tuesday they had transferred the first patient who tested positive for the disease to a state park used to isolate and monitor Georgians exposed to the illness.

“Widespread occurrence of this virus is a serious threat to our health systems, our vulnerable citizens, and the economic engine of our state,” Kemp said in a letter to House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

“Ensuring that Georgia has the resources at hand to enable us to respond quickly and thoroughly to prevent its spread within our borders is paramount to keeping citizens safe, maintaining the stability of our health network and mitigating impact to our economy.”

Ralston quickly backed the move.

“Speaker Ralston fully supports Governor Kemp’s request for the additional $100 million to address any coronavirus-related needs,” said his spokesman Kaleb McMichen. “Speaker Ralston is committed to ensuring adequate resources are available, and he is confident in the federal, state and local personnel who are working tirelessly to manage this situation.”

Kemp noted the significance of using the rainy day reserves for the crisis, something governors typically only do in fiscal emergencies like a severe recession.

“I do not make the recommendation to draw from this account lightly,” he said. “However, the spread of coronavirus represents an immediate and unforeseen threat to the state.”