Georgia Senate backs midyear budget with raises, bonuses for teachers, workers

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The Georgia Senate on Thursday passed a nearly $30 billion midyear budget that includes raises and bonuses for about 300,000 state, university and k-12 employees.

The Senate plan — which passed 52-0 — also includes the $1.6 billion in state income tax refunds that Gov. Brian Kemp proposed earlier this year because the government ran a surplus in fiscal 2021.

The House last month backed a midyear budget that retained Kemp’s priorities and added some chamber goals. The Senate version did as well. Now the House and Senate will negotiate a final deal.

The proposal would increase spending by $2.6 billion this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Kemp — who is up for reelection this year — was able to request big increases in spending for salaries, education and health care because tax collections are running 17.9% ahead of last year for the first seven months of fiscal 2022.

Typically, the midyear budget is used to fund rises in school enrollment and increased costs for Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor, disabled and nursing care.

But after ending fiscal 2021 with a $3.7 billion surplus — in part because of massive federal COVID-19 relief funding — and now seven months of continuing revenue growth, Kemp and lawmakers are spending big.

The midyear plan includes more than $500 million to give about 100,000 state and University System of Georgia employees a $5,000 raise. State officials hope raises will help stem the high turnover rate among state workers, many of whom have seen little or no salary boost in recent years.

The Senate proposed increasing the raise to $9,000 for officers who work in Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice facilities, which have seen high turnover rates for years.

Full-time k-12 employees — such as teachers and staff — would receive a $2,000 bonus, while part-timers would get $1,000. Teachers are expected to be offered a $2,000 raise in fiscal 2023, allowing Kemp to meet his 2018 campaign promise of giving them a $5,000 increase over the course of his first term.

The spending plan includes about $390 million to restore spending cuts to k-12 schools that lawmakers approved in 2020, when reductions were made in anticipation that the COVID-19 pandemic would bring a severe recession.

The midyear plan includes big increases for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled and nursing homes, which were hit hard by the pandemic.

The proposal calls for $432 million to get a start on a plan to buy a private prison and build a new one. The idea is the new bed space would replace more run-down and dangerous facilities.

The midyear spending plan includes $112.6 million to buy and develop the land for Rivian’s new electric-vehicle manufacturing plant east of Atlanta.

The biggest addition the Senate leaders made to Kemp’s original budget proposal was setting aside the money required to match what the state is expected to receive from the federal infrastructure plan Congress approved last year. Congress has yet to appropriate the funding, but Senate leaders set aside $189 million for a required state match to make sure Georgia can get the money once it is available.


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