House backs $32.4 billion budget with raises for teachers, state employees

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

The Georgia House on Thursday passed a spending plan for the upcoming year that would give law enforcement officers $4,000 raises and teachers and other state employees a $2,000 salary boost.

The budget for fiscal 2024 — which passed 167-1 and begins July 1 — now heads to the Senate for its consideration. Lawmakers need to finalize a spending plan before they end their session later this month.

On Monday the House and Senate agreed to a midyear budget — which runs through June 30 — that includes a $950 million property tax rebate and big spending increases across state government, thanks in part to a massive surplus left over from 2022.

However, with recession talk growing, state officials had counted on a more conservative state budget in the coming year because the rate of revenue growth is expected to slow.

For fiscal 2024, House budget writers included $1.25 million to open a Georgia State Patrol satellite post in Buckhead that would house up to 20 troopers from the motor unit and Nighthawks DUI Task Force.

The announcement comes on the heels of a two-year effort by disgruntled residents in the wealthy north Atlanta neighborhood to secede from the city. Secession supporters cited frustration with Atlanta’s response to high rates of violent crime. Their effort was voted down last week in the Senate.

The House also added $2.7 million for a new GBI cold case office, $2.5 million for sexual assault nurse examiners and $1.5 million for more forensic crime staffers to help clear evidence backlogs.

The House plan includes $120 million more in spending on mental health and substance abuse programs, including millions more for treatment slots, $10 million to increase wages at state psychiatric hospitals and $2.25 million more for suicide hotline management.

House Appropriations Chairman Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, said he hopes the Senate will add even more money to mental health services.

Under the budget, the state would spend a record $13 billion on K-12 schools next year.

Budget writers reduced the increase Gov. Brian Kemp had proposed in public school HOPE college scholarship awards, putting some of that money toward boosting payments to private college recipients.

Rep, Stacey Evans, D-Atlanta, told colleagues the state can afford to boost HOPE funding to meet Kemp’s goal of having all public college scholarships cover 100% of tuition costs. She said the lottery-funded programs have more than $1 billion in reserve above the legal requirement.

“We have the money and there is no reason not to spend it,” she said.

The House added $26.7 million to the budget to give 54,000 state government pensioners a $500 boost next year. The House and Senate did the same in this year’s budget.

State government pensioners got their first cost-of-living increase in more than a decade last year and have long complained about the lack of raises. Retired teachers and University System of Georgia employees in the Teachers Retirement System pension program get 3% annual cost-of-living increases.

Hatchett told colleagues Thursday that recent pay raises for state employees — including a $5,000 increase last year — are helping to slow turnover rates in state agencies and making it easier to find staffers.

The spending plan would borrow about $628 million for new construction projects, including $33 million for a research tower at Georgia State University in Atlanta, $30 million for the second phase of a modernization project at the University of Georgia and $27.5 million for a science, technology, engineering and math education building at Kennesaw State University.

The bond package also includes $1.7 million to rennovate a building at Georgia Southern University’s Savannah’s campus for the Medical College of Georgia to set up a new medical school campus.