Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday proposed a $19.8 billion status quo budget for the upcoming year that provides $800 million in construction projects but no new major programs. Nor does the plan contain cost-of-living raises for teachers, for the fifth year in a row, or for state employees, for the sixth year in a row.
Deal’s budget covers the heavy demands of a growing population while accounting for sluggish tax collections. But the governor offered an upbeat message to lawmakers during his annual State of the State address, promising better times amid a tepid economic recovery.
“I will not lead our state with a doomsday mindset, reacting erratically and hastily based on fear or ignorance,” Deal told legislators. “Instead, we will move forward with confidence.”
It was Deal’s third State of the State address but, when it came to finances, the 2013 speech sounded like those of 2012 and 2011: State government is still reeling from the impact of the Great Recession, but the economy is showing signs of a rebound. Even with a $550 million increase in the state budget next year, spending remains down more than $1 billion from where it was when the recession started affecting tax coffers in 2008.
The budget provides a crystal-clear blueprint of Georgia’s top priorities. And it is crucial to the lives of millions of Georgians, helping to fund the education of about two million students and health and nursing care for about 1.6 million people. It funds road improvements and prisons, economic development initiatives and cancer research, business regulation and water and sewer projects.
State spending wasn’t the only thing the governor talked about Thursday. He also called on lawmakers to strengthen ethics laws, urging them to apply any new rules to all elected officials — not just those who serve in state government.
But what lawmakers really wanted to hear was how the governor proposed to cover the huge and growing cost of Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled, and fund enrollment increases in education.
Deal’s two budget plans — one for the fiscal year that ends in June and the next year — cut spending in most areas but add hundreds of millions of dollars to public health care programs.
They include more than $300 million to pay for growth in K-12 school enrollment and extra money to poorer school systems.
The higher education system would receive slightly more under Deal’s plan next year.
State employees and teachers didn’t get good news from Deal — he offered them no hope of a cost-of-living raise in fiscal 2014, and some agencies will have to reduce staff. Most state employees haven’t received a cost-of-living raise from lawmakers since fiscal 2008, and teachers since fiscal 2009.
Read more: AJC