ATLANTA — A legislature that was poised last winter to give Georgia teachers a 2% raise and follow through with the second installment of a state income tax cut is moving forward with a fiscal 2021 budget that does neither.
The Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday approved a budget for the year starting July 1 that cuts spending by $2.6 billion, acknowledging the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the state’s coffers.
“Our financial situation has dramatically shifted,” Sen. Blake Tillery, the committee’s chairman, said. “There will be less. There’s no sugar-coating of that.”
But Tillery, R-Vidalia, did his best during a brief presentation to committee members to shed the best light on the budget he could.
For one thing, the committee was able to scale back planned across-the-board reductions from 14% to 11% after the state Department of Revenue reported tax revenues haven’t plummeted as much as expected. Tillery cited the partial re-opening of Georgia businesses for the rebound.
The committee’s budget also fully funds Georgia’s lottery-funded pre-kindergarten program, which had been threatened with losing 4,000 enrollment slots.
Agencies preparing to furlough employees for two days per month – including the human services and behavioral health departments — would have to furlough workers only once a month, or 12 days, during the coming fiscal year.
However, Georgia’s public schools, university system and technical college system still would have to make do with 11% cuts.
Tillery said the Department of Agriculture would get enough funding to launch the state commission that will oversee the new hemp cultivation program the General Assembly approved last year. Also, farm markets in Cordele and Thomasville that were facing closure would be funded, he said.
The committee’s budget also leaves intact a healthy bond package of $990 million for capital projects, including $342 million for K-12 school construction.
Lawmakers are prepared to take part in the sacrifices. The committee’s budget would reduce senators’ annual salaries by 11% from the current $17,000, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s salary of about $91,600 a year would be cut by 14%.
The full Senate is expected to take up the budget later this week.