by Nyamekye Daniel
The Georgia House approved changes Thursday to the state’s fiscal year 2021 spending plan.
The House voted 149-20 to approve a 2.5% increase – or $654 million more – in spending for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
With more funding for K-12 schools, colleges, universities, public health and state vehicles, the House’s Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) budget raises spending to $26.5 billion, instead of the $25.9 million approved by lawmakers and Gov. Brian Kemp last summer.
Two budgets are passed through the General Assembly every legislative session. Lawmakers must review and approve spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year, also known as the AFY budget, and approve the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
The restored balance in the budget proposal is $68 million below the state’s $722 million in revenue collections, House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Terry England, R-Auburn, said.
“We still have some headwinds in front of us as we get to the tax filing season,” England said. “We will start seeing refunds made … personal income tax withholding was taken out of unemployment benefits when they were paid. So we do realize that there will be some impact of those refunds when they go out.”
The House proposal allocates $10.24 billion to the Georgia Department of Education, which is more than a $600 million increase from June’s allocation, when budget writers set aside $9.6 billion.
England said the state also was able to fill some gaps in funding from federal COVID-19 aid, especially for education and public health.
The House AFY proposal includes nearly $286,000 to hire a chief medical officer, a deputy commissioner of public health and a chief data officer to support the agency with COVID-19 response. It also includes $18 million to replace and upgrade the public health surveillance system for vaccinations and more than $15 million to support the state’s plan to vaccinate people in its HIV/AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Lawmakers also added more money throughout the proposal to support long-term care facilities that have been hard hit by COVID-19.
The House plan also restored cuts from the judicial system and the Georgia Department of Agriculture (DOA).
The DOA would see an increase of more than $3.1 million if the House version is approved. Budget writers allocated an additional $2.2 million to the judicial system, including $1.3 million for state prosecutors.
The plan also includes additional funding for behavioral health services, broadband internet access and the state’s hemp program and ethics commission.
More than $66 million was set aside to purchase or replace more than 1,000 state vehicles, including 500 school buses for districts across the state.
The House AFY budget immediately was transmitted to the Senate.
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Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel’s work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times. Daniel is a staff reporter for The Center Square.
Photo “Georgia Capitol” by Autiger. CC BY-SA 2.0.