The state budget Gov. Nathan Deal signed Monday includes money for a lot of things, including the first major pay raises for 200,000 teachers and state employees since before the Great Recession.
But what Georgians may notice most in coming months are the cranes, road pavers, cement mixers and dump trucks as road, bridge and building projects get a major boost from more than $1.6 billion in new construction spending when the new budget kicks in July 1.
The gas and hotel taxes lawmakers approved last year will fuel a road-building boom. Big borrowing means new college and k-12 school buildings will be built. An entire technical college campus will be re-created on 95 empty acres in Deal’s home Hall County, where he signed the budget Monday.
The old state archives building near the Capitol will come down, to be replaced by a pricey state courts complex. The amphitheater will be expanded at Centennial Olympic Park. A new GBI anti-terrorism information center will be designed.
It’s all part of what is once again a growing state budget, and an attempt by Deal and lawmakers to play catch-up with improvements that the state couldn’t necessarily afford a few years ago.
“It really gives the state the chance to jump ahead,” Deal said after the first of several budget bill signings across the state. “We have really come through the Great Recession very well. But we had to do like everybody had to do, we had to cut back on things we would have preferred to spend money on, particularly on education.
“I think we have focused the money we had available to us, we have pinpointed it to our great needs.”
The state budget helps fund the education of more than 2 million students and provides health and nursing care for about 2 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.
The governor held budget-signing ceremonies at sites across the state Monday.
Under the $23.7 billion budget, many of the state’s 200,000 teachers and state employees will get raises in the range of 3 percent. In some areas where state government is seeing massive turnover, such as in prison guards and public health nurses, the raises will be much more substantial.
The budget funds a 3 percent bonus for state retiree pensions, something thousands of former government staffers haven’t seen for several years. And it will allow state agencies to hire hundreds of new staffers in a wide variety of positions, such as child welfare and elder abuse prevention workers, and law enforcement officers attacking cyberterrorism.
That’s significant because employment in state government is down 17 percent from 2008, before the recession hammered state finances.
Budget-writers also played catch-up with medical providers that they said have not seen much in the way of increases for a few years.
The Senate went along with the House to provide $116 million extra in payments to nursing homes and many doctors who treat Medicaid patients.
Still, among the most visible signs that state finances have been making a comeback will be the construction across the state. The budget calls for about $1 billion in borrowing in addition to using new gas and hotel tax money for road and bridge projects.
The field off of Ga. 365 where Deal first signed the budget Monday will be turned into the governor’s hometown tech school, which is currently located on the southern end of the county. Deal won support last year for a last-minute $10 million addition to the budget to buy the land, and this year he included $48.3 million in new borrowing to start building the campus. The rebuilt campus could eventually cost $100 million or more.
At the budget-signing ceremony Monday, Ray Perren, the president of Lanier Technical College, said, “These funds will ensure Lanier Tech will continue to be the go-to partner for workforce development for generations to come.”
The budget Deal signed includes $6.5 million to demolish the old archives building down the street from the Capitol and to design a new judicial complex for the site. The demolition money has been cut from the budget several times by lawmakers who found other uses for the money. The cost of the new courthouse, like Lanier Tech’s move, could top $100 million.
Lanier Tech won’t be the only school benefiting from the record construction package. In all, more than $500 million will be borrowed to build and equip k-12 and college buildings across the state.
The budget includes $19 million to expand a biology building at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, $5.2 million to build labs and a “student learning” center at Georgia State University’s Alpharetta campus, $5 million for new cabins at the Rock Eagle 4-H facility in Eatonton, $2.5 million to design an academic building at Kennesaw State University, $2 million for library renovations in Valdosta and $1 million to replace a roof at a technical college in Waycross.
The state will spend $13.7 million to renovate Metro State Prison in Atlanta to better help prepare inmates to return to society, $4 million for shoreline erosion mitigation efforts on Jekyll Island, $3.65 million for a driver skills course for state patrol officers in the city of Forsyth, $3 million for Centennial Olympic Park’s amphitheater expansion project and $600,000 for seawall construction on Hutchinson Island.
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