Georgia House panel backs budget for upcoming year with teacher raises

Georgia House budget writers on Thursday approved a spending plan for the coming year that includes a $2,000 pay raise for teachers and continues attempts to slow state government turnover.

State lawmakers would be among those getting the full $5,000 raises in the upcoming year’s budget. Legislators haven’t received an increase on their $17,000 part-time salary in more than a decade.

The $30 billion spending plan for fiscal 2023, which begins July 1, builds on the record midyear budget that is expected to win final approval Friday.

The midyear budget, which runs through June 30, includes $2,000 bonuses for teachers and school workers and $5,000 cost-of-living raises for most state and university employees.

The budget for the upcoming year would turn the teacher bonus into a raise — meaning it would be built into their future years’ salary — and continue to fund the state employee increases. Some staffers in areas with hard-to-fill jobs, including corrections and mental health agencies, would get bigger raises.

Private prison operators also would receive more money to give their corrections officers raises under the plan, even though they are not state employees.

The House Appropriations Committee’s spending proposal for the coming year also calls for a market study to look at what the government needs to pay to attract and retain employees. Some agencies have annual turnover rates over 25%, in part because of low pay. In the state Juvenile Justice Department, it’s closer to 90%.

The House plan for the coming year adds big money for the chamber leadership’s priorities: improving mental health care, including boosting salaries, adding more facilities such as hospital and crisis beds, plus staffers; increasing access; aiding crime fighting; and enhancing schools and public health care programs.

“This is an incredible, incredible budget this year for what we have been able to do for the least of these among us,” said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn.

The House proposal also puts money into increasing college programs to up the number of nurses in Georgia. It adds more than 60 positions to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, a priority of House Speaker David Ralston, who also wants more funding for mental health care. And it backs Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposal to boost state spending on higher education.

While the state midyear budget for the fiscal year ending June 30 saw a massive increase — from about $27 billion to $30 billion — the spending plan for the upcoming year would see a more modest rise.

State tax collections are running 16% ahead of last year for the first eight months of fiscal 2022, which is good for budget writers who have to make sure they can afford the midyear budget increase. Gains are expected to slow in the coming year.

The teacher pay raise is particularly important to Kemp, who faces a tough reelection battle this year. Kemp promised during his 2018 campaign that he would give them a $5,000 increase over the course of his first term. He’d previously delivered on $3,000 in 2019, so the new raise would fulfill that promise.

In total, the state would spend about $950 million more on raises for state, k-12 school and university employees.