Georgia Senate panel backs budget with raises, bonuses, tax refund

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

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

About 300,000 state, university and k-12 employees are a step closer to receiving raises and bonuses after a key Georgia Senate panel approved a midyear state budget Monday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s midyear plan 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 proposal would increase spending by $2.6 billion this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The budget now moves to the full Senate, which is expected to pass it this week.

Kemp — who is up for reelection this year — was able to request big increases in 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, and now seven months of continuing revenue growth, Kemp and lawmakers are thinking 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.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, said his chamber is proposing increasing the raise to $9,000 for officers who work in the 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 payment, 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 Senate added money to make sure school nurses would receive the same bonus money.

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 Senate also added $5 million to help nursing schools produce more nurses.

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 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.