Georgia lawmakers begin work on Kemp’s $32.5 billion budget this week

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

This is called “budget week” at the state Capitol and with good reason: The Legislature all but shuts down while Appropriations committees start work reviewing Gov. Brian Kemp’s $32.5 billion spending proposal for the upcoming year.

It’s an annual event the week after a legislative session begins, where agency leaders go before lawmakers and essentially list all the additions and subtractions to their department budgets in the governor’s written proposals that legislators already have a copy of in front of them.

Some legislator then publicly tells the department head how much they appreciate all the hard work that particular agency does. A few other lawmakers might ask questions, and then it’s on to the next department head, and the process is repeated. For three days. It’s more sausage making than prime-time TV drama.

But this year the joint House and Senate Appropriations committees are doing things a little differently: They are mixing in reviews of state audits on programs and tax breaks; they are listening to reports about how much debt the state owes; and they are discussing initiatives aimed at providing health care to more Georgians.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, called it “a little accountability,” a chance to look at what is working, and maybe what is not.

Kemp last week released proposals that call for an increase of more than $1 billion in school funding, $567 million in pay raises, tax rebates, a bump in HOPE scholarship spending and big money to train workers for jobs in the electric-vehicle industry.

Most of what the governor requests he’ll get. Traditionally a big chunk of every state budget comes from a governor’s proposal, and Kemp dropped a 400-page plan on lawmakers Friday. It included funding for the midyear budget, which runs through June 30, and the fiscal 2024 budget, which picks up July 1.

The $32.5 billion or so the state spends helps it educate 2 million children, provide health care to more than 2 million Georgians, manage and improve parks, investigate crimes and incarcerate criminals, and regulate insurance firms, utilities and dozens of professions. The state issues driver’s licenses and helps pay for nursing home care for the elderly.

The state is a major provider of treatment for mental health and drug addiction, and it helps fund public health programs. Besides paying salaries, it helps make sure former teachers, university staffers and state employees receive pensions and health care.

This week’s hearings will begin Tuesday with a remote address from Kemp, who will be in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. Then the state economist, Jeffrey Dorfman of the University of Georgia, will present his economic forecast.

Most of the rest of Tuesday will be made up of investigations of programs, state debt and health care issues. The last two days of the hearings will be more familiar to the Capitol crowd, with agency directors parading — in abreviated fashion — before lawmakers to detail what Kemp’s budget has in store for them.

Lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass the budgets before they close out their session in late March and head for home.