The Georgia Senate on Thursday passed a budget for the upcoming year that would give troopers, GBI investigators and game wardens $6,000 raises while teachers and other state employees would receive a $2,000 salary boost.
Its version of the budget also would cut funding to the University System of Georgia and Georgia Public Broadcasting.
The budget for fiscal 2024 passed 51-1 with little debate, and the move sets up final negotiations with the House over the $32.4 billion spending plan. The legislative session ends Wednesday.
The Senate had extra money to spend in some areas after cutting about $105 million from Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposal for University System of Georgia spending. That is essentially the same amount Kemp and lawmakers recently approved for a new electronic medical records system for the Medical College of Georgia, part of Augusta University.
Wellstar Health System is negotiating a partnership with AU Health System and could possibly take it over. Senate leaders have raised questions about the cost of the medical records system. Wellstar has also been a vocal critic of the Senate’s push to make it easier for new hospitals to be built in Georgia.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, said the University System had more than $500 million in leftover funds at the end of fiscal 2022 that it can use to make up for the spending cut.
The Senate chopped Georgia Public Broadcasting’s budget by 26%.
Tillery said other stations have complained for years about GPB being the only broadcaster funded by the state.
“Why are we picking winners and losers?” Tillery told colleagues. “Right now, that argument is winning in this body.”
Some of the money the House put in for school nutrition, sexual assault nurse examiners and mental health was cut as well by the Senate.
Many of those cuts may not wind up in the final budget the House and Senate produce.
The Senate version of the budget would increase the pay raise for some law enforcement staffers — such as troopers — from the $2,000 Kemp proposed and $4,000 the House proposed to $6,000. Tillery said the raises are aimed at retaining law enforcement officers, and it was at least partly funded by reducing the money budgeted to train new troopers.
Both the House and Senate have now passed versions of the budget that include $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 was voted down earlier in the session in the Senate.
Under both versions of the budget, the state would spend a record $13 billion on K-12 schools next year.
The 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. The House wanted to increase it to 95% of tuition.
The Senate added $173 million to the state’s reinsurance program, which is designed to stabilize the health insurance market and make coverage more affordable. That’s almost twice as much as what Kemp proposed to spend in January.
The spending plan would borrow more than $600 million for new construction projects, including about $50 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.
Tillery said the House and Senate agree on more than 80% of the spending lines in the budget. They will now have until Wednesday to work out the rest.
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