The Georgia Senate unanimously passed a mid-year budget of $ 26.5 billion on Tuesday to fund state public health, police and schools through June 30. This has given more funding to initiatives to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and promote broadband internet in rural areas.
The mid-year budget relies on federal COVID-19 aid to fill spending gaps in education, public health, and other agencies.
The Senate version of the half-year budget largely mirrors Governor Brian Kemp’s spending recommendations last month, which are designed to avoid additional cuts after agencies’ budgets were cut by $ 2.2 billion in June last year due to the pandemic.
With no cuts, the mid-year budget will restore more than half of the $ 950 million saved by K-12 public schools last year. The remaining shortfall will be covered with federal funds in order to keep the school budget stable.
State House lawmakers backed Kemp’s proposals to add $ 20 million to expand broadband internet in rural Georgia, more than $ 38 million to buy 500 new school buses, and $ 500,000 to start the new ones State hemp cultivation and medicinal cannabis initiatives.
Senate lawmakers have allocated more money to state health officials to fight the pandemic, and allocated $ 27 million to epidemiological programs and a vaccination scheduling system. Five new posts focusing on pandemics would be added to the state Department of Health, from three posts the House added.
The Senate-approved budget gives the governor an additional $ 7.5 million in emergency funding to fight the virus and would allow state prison guards and youth correction officers a 10% pay increase beginning April 1, in order to generate savings by shedding vacant positions .
“I think this is a budget to be proud of,” said Blake Tillery, chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, R-Vidalia. “It’s certainly a much better position than it was this time last year.”
Although passed unanimously, the budget was criticized by Democratic State senators for not including more money for public health services and leaving legislators with no room to generate revenue by curtailing tax breaks and increasing the state’s cigarette tax.
“We think – I think – we should have done more,” said Gloria Butler, Senate Minority Chairwoman, D-Stone Mountain. “The politics of the day do not determine our best thinking or our best political and budgetary decisions.”
The mid-year budget now returns to the house for final vote before it goes to Kemp’s desk to be signed. The legislature will then work out a budget for the 2022 financial year.