Kemp signs budget with bonuses, extra money for schools, health

Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday signed a budget for the next few months that includes bonuses for many employees and raises for some others while increasing spending for schools and health care.

The midyear budget runs through June 30 and, overall, increases state spending $654 million. Lawmakers moved quickly to pass the measure in case the General Assembly has to suspend its session because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year it put the session on hold in March for about three months because of the pandemic.

“In a year of tough, unprecedented times, today is certainly a good day,” Kemp said before signing the spending plan.

While several lawmakers and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, there has been less talk of late about suspending this year’s session. Getting the midyear budget passed and signed eases any pressure they had felt, and now they will concentrate on approving a $27 billion budget for the upcoming year that will include about $1 billion in borrowing for construction projects.

The midyear budget Kemp signed essentially keeps the state running until the summer. The measure will provide $1,000 bonuses to most state employees and give 10% raises to prison guards.

Kemp announced the same bonuses for Georgia’s public school teachers last month.

Both bonuses are being paid — directly or indirectly — from federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The largest spending increase would be in education, where the House and Senate went along with Kemp’s proposal to backfill 60% of the spending reductions that lawmakers approved last year, when they cut 10% because of fears that state revenue would plummet due to the pandemic.

That didn’t happen. In fact, state tax collections have increased 6.3% during the first seven months of this fiscal year.

Kemp said the increased school spending “sends a clear message that even in the most challenging times, we are maintaining our commitment to Georgia students, parents, educators and staff.”

The budget will also pay for 520 new school buses, increase support for nursing homes hit hard by COVID-19 and add high-speed internet in rural areas.

It will spend $27 million to quickly modernize the Department of Public Health’s computer system that tracks immunizations and pay to hire several new staffers at the agency that has spent most of the past year fighting COVID-19.