Kemp signs state budget with $2,000-$6,000 raises, University System cuts

Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday signed the $32.4 billion state budget for the coming fiscal year while visiting the Savannah area. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday signed the $32.4 billion state budget for the coming fiscal year while visiting the Savannah area. (Natrice Miller/

Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday signed a $32.4 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes raises for more than 200,000 teachers, state and university employees, as well as cuts to college and public broadcasting funding.

Kemp signed the budget in Ellabell in southeast Georgia at the site of a new Hyundai electric-vehicle plant that is being built. The governor also signed legislation extending tax breaks for megaprojects such as the plant.

The budget for fiscal 2024, which begins July 1, was passed on the final day of the General Assembly session in late March.

While the measure includes big raises and boosts to law enforcement, school and mental health funding, Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, said it was written with the knowledge that the state could face an economic slowdown later this year.

On the final night of the session, Kemp told lawmakers that there were “significant holes” in the budget in an uncertain economy.

Still, in signing the budget, Kemp said: “Georgia continues to be the best state to live, work and raise a family because we have prioritized education, public safety, health care and economic development, even in the face of truly unprecedented times.

“Today’s legislation builds on those priorities to make us even stronger and more prosperous.”

Kemp vetoed more than $30 million in spending, including $6 million in borrowing for a technical college system building in TIllery’s district and $6 million for a dental school building at Georgia Southern University, which is partly represented by House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington.

He also told state agencies to disregard House and Senate instructions on tens of millions of dollars in spending, including for $1,000 bonuses for school custodians, millions to fund meals for tens of thousands of schoolchildren eligible for reduced-price meals, and money for an increase in payments to state retirees.

Lawmakers cut $66 million from the University System of Georgia’s $3.1 billion budget. The reduction is a little more than half the amount Kemp and lawmakers earlier approved for a new electronic medical records system for the Medical College of Georgia, part of Augusta University.

Wellstar Health System was, at the time, negotiating a partnership with AU Health System to take it over, a deal that has since been approved. Senate leaders raised questions about the cost of the medical records system. Wellstar was also a vocal critic of the Senate’s push to make it easier to build new hospitals in Georgia.

After University System Chancellor Sonny Perdue criticized the cut in funding, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, the Senate’s president, requested the system provide information on what colleges are spending on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, a recent target of Republicans.

Georgia Public Broadcasting is also taking a $1.4 million hit in the budget. Tillery said other stations have complained for years about GPB being the only broadcaster funded by the state.

Teachers and most state and university employees will see a $2,000 pay raise. However, some law enforcement officers working in prisons and juvenile justice facilities will get $4,000 raises. And other law enforcement officers, such as state troopers, will get $6,000 raises.

Tillery said the raises are aimed at retaining experienced law enforcement officers, given the expensive cost of trooper schools to replace those who leave.

House Appropriations Chairman Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin said the raises would bring the average teacher salary to $61,000 a year, the highest in the Southeast.

Kemp also pushed pay raises during his first term, and he said, “No other General Assembly or governor has raised teacher salaries by so much, so quickly in state history.”

In terms of raw dollars that may be true, but Gov. Zell Miller and the General Assembly raised teacher pay 6% for four consecutive years from 1995 to 1998.

Overall, the state will spend a record $13.1 billion on K-12 schools next fiscal year.

The funding package includes $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 House proposed the expenditure 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 to break away from the city was voted down during the session in the Senate.

The House and Senate agreed with Kemp’s proposal to fund public school HOPE college scholarship awards at 100% of tuition. Currently they are closer to 90% except for high-achieving students who earn Zell Miller scholarships.

Lawmakers again provided tens of millions of dollars more for mental health and substance abuse programs, the second consecutive year the General Assembly has made them a priority, pointing to greater need since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spending plan will borrow more than $600 million for new construction projects, including about $50 million for a research tower at Georgia State University in Atlanta and millions more for the second phase of a modernization project at the University of Georgia and a science, technology, engineering and math education building at Kennesaw State University.