Georgia Senate leaders pass budget for upcoming year with raises for 300,000

Georgia Senate leaders on Thursday backed 4% raises for many state workers and more money for law enforcement, education and mental health programs.

The raises are included in the spending plan for fiscal 2025 — which begins July 1.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the $36 billion budget Thursday, and it now goes before the full chamber. Once it passes, differences between the House and Senate must be ironed out before lawmakers adjourn the session on March 28.

State tax collections have been slow for the past year. But the state is sitting on $16 billion in “rainy day” and undesignated reserves, so Kemp and lawmakers have backed higher spending since the session began in January.

The state spent about $26.6 billion — excluding federal funding — in fiscal 2020, the last budget plan approved before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Last year, it was more than $32 billion. The midyear plan Kemp signed earlier in the session boosted state spending to nearly $38 billion. Of that, $2 billion would come out of “undesignated” reserves.

Next year’s initial budget would be $36.1 billion, but that too may be increased during the 2025 session.

All that matters because the money the state collects in taxes helps pay for K-12 schools, colleges, public health care, prisons, policing, business regulation, roads and a host of other services.

Under the Kemp budget plan endorsed by House and Senate leaders, state law enforcement employees would receive $3,000 raises, on top of the $6,000 increases approved last session. Child protection and placement services caseworkers in the Division of Family and Children Services would also receive $3,000 raises.

Other rank-and-file workers would receive 4% increases — up to about the first $70,000 in salary — and teachers would get $2,500 more.

More than $200 million extra would go to school districts to pay for transporting children to school, something local officials have requested for years, and more than $100 million would go to schools for security upgrades.

The chambers also backed hundreds of millions of dollars more for Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled, including big money to increase payments to nursing home operators and other providers.