Gov. Brian Kemp. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Kemp signs record budget with $3,000 raises for Georgia teachers

The $3,000 pay raises that teachers were promised in January became official Friday, when Gov. Brian Kemp signed a record budget for the upcoming fiscal year in Camilla.

Kemp approved the budget during a South Georgia tour, where he held bill signing events and attended an anti-gang roundtable discussion.

The budget for fiscal 2020, which takes effect July 1, includes about $27.5 billion in state spending and $53 billion overall, once federal dollars and other money are included.

The governor vetoed about $8 million in bonds the General Assembly approved and told agencies to disregard instructions from lawmakers to direct money to more than a dozen projects, including what would have been the first state funding for the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in almost a decade.

>> Bill Tracker: See which bills Gov. Kemp has signed, vetoed

At the budget signing ceremony, the governor said, “This is another step for a safer, stronger, more educated Georgia.”

In a later statement, he added, “This budget demonstrates our priorities as a state, reflects our core values, and signals the bright future ahead for all Georgians.”

Photo: Isaac Sabetai

Kemp has called the pay raises a down payment on his campaign promise last year to hike teacher pay by $5,000.

Teacher groups, such as the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, cheered the move.

“On behalf of our 95,000 members and all Georgia educators, PAGE applauds Governor Kemp’s signature of the state budget,” PAGE Executive Director Craig Harper said. “Over the last decade, educators have received a raise on the state teacher salary schedule only one other time. The $3,000 raise will boost educator recruitment and retention statewide.”

Charlotte Booker, the president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said: “The teachers of Georgia are appreciative of what Governor Kemp has signed into existence today. They are hopeful that this is the beginning of his, and the Legislature’s, recognition of the need to pay our valuable public school teachers what they are worth.”

It is one of the largest teacher pay raises in state history. Gov. Zell Miller pushed 6 percent pay raises for four years during his second term in the 1990s in an effort to make average teacher pay in Georgia the highest in the Southeast, but increases have been small or nonexistent during many of the years since the Great Recession hit in the late 2000s.

This school year educators received no state-funded cost-of-living increase. Many teachers receive longevity raises or locally funded increases, but not all.

Atlanta school officials say their teachers may not receive the full raise if the city of Atlanta doesn’t come through with money the system says it is owed.

The new budget also includes a 2 percent raise for 70,000-80,000 state employees who have been even less likely than teachers to receive increases over the past decade.

It also fully funds the k-12 school formula, which was shorted for more than a decade before Gov. Nathan Deal added money to it during the 2018 session.

And it borrows $150 million for a new voting system in Georgia. The state plans to replace its electronic voting machines with a voting system that has a paper trail.

Most of the increased spending in the budget goes to k-12 schools and public health care, two big-ticket areas of state spending that traditionally grow in a major way each year.

“The budget reflects our commitment to investing for the future by upgrading our voting technology, funding infrastructure improvements and, especially, rewarding our dedicated teachers and state employees,” said state House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said the spending plan will “prepare our state for long-term success.”

The budget includes about $1 billion in borrowing, mostly for new construction projects.

Among the local projects to make the cut are $48 million for a new convocation center and basketball arena for Georgia State University, $39.5 million for an academic learning center at Kennesaw State University, $22 million for a pedestrian mall and bus depot at the Georgia World Congress Center, and $3 million to design a new Georgia State Patrol headquarters in Atlanta.

The spending plan also provides extra money for mental health and addiction programs, and $1.5 million to improve the counting of Georgians in the 2020 census, which makes an impact in areas such as congressional representation and federal funding for some programs.

The spending plan includes $35 million to start upgrading the state’s railroads. That’s something that’s been badly needed for many years to make moving freight to and from Georgia ports easier and faster, said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn.

The governor vetoed or told state agencies to disregard more than a dozen items lawmakers added to the budget. One that caught his eye was $50,000 in marketing money for the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon. Georgia used to spend millions of dollars a year to support such halls — all of which had low attendance and were located outside metro Atlanta. The state stopped putting money into them just before and during the Great Recession, but Sports Hall officials hoped to revive state support.

Kemp’s veto message said the expenditure “falls outside the scope” of the Department of Community Affairs, the agency the General Assembly gave the money to for the hall.

Other cuts included a directive that the Department of Law evaluate pet breeding operations and $200,000 in historic preservation grants for a program that the governor said already receives dedicated state funding.

He vetoed technical college projects that the agency that runs the system didn’t request, and $2.5 million to build a greenhouse complex at the University of Georgia because it wouldn’t be enough to pay for the facility, therefore forcing the state to come up with more money in the future.

Photo: Isaac Sabetai

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