House, Senate reach deal on midyear budget with pay raises, bonuses, tax refund

Georgia House and Senate budget writers agreed to a $30 billion midyear budget that includes raises and bonuses for about 300,000 state, university and k-12 employees.

The House approved the agreement 162-2 on Wednesday. The Senate is expected to back it by the end of the week.

The budget includes the $1.6 billion in state income tax refunds that Gov. Brian Kemp proposed earlier this year, after the government ran a surplus in fiscal 2021.

Both chambers retained Kemp’s priorities and added some chamber goals.

The proposal would increase spending by about $3 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 16% ahead of last year for the first eight 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 eight 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 agreement makes the raise $7,000 for officers who work in Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice facilities, which have seen high turnover rates for years.

Legislators would not receive the full $5,000 raise most other state employees would get. The spending plan removes $3,750 of the $5,000 that lawmakers, statewide elected officials and judges would receive, maintaining that it is an unconstitutional bonus because of the way raises would be handed out.

Full-time and part-time k-12 employees — such as teachers and staff — would receive a $2,000 bonus. 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.

In total, the state would spend more than $900 million on raises and bonuses for state employees and teachers.

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.