Week Three Update 2016
During the third week of the Georgia General Assembly’s 2016 legislative session, my colleagues and I had the responsibility of passing one of the most important pieces of legislation of the year: the 2016 amended fiscal year budget (AFY 2016). This budget, a mid-year adjustment of state spending through June 30, 2016, was first introduced by Governor Deal at last week’s Joint Appropriations hearing. Since then, through a series of Appropriations Committee meetings, we have carefully reviewed and edited the AFY 2016 budget. The House version of the Amended Fiscal Year 2016 (AFY 2016) budget was packaged into House Bill 750 and was passed by the House on Thursday, January 28th.
The House version of the AFY 2016 budget is very similar to Gov. Deal’s initial budget proposal. The amended budget includes an addition of $1.1 billion, or 5.3 percent, in “new” funds. The total appropriations for AFY 2016 equals $22.9 billion, with education and transportation funds accounting for 85 percent of the appropriations. Here are how the funds were allocated.
- $758 million in new state general and motor fuel funds (results of House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act, passed during 2015 legislative session)
- $519 million of the funds are for capital construction and maintenance projects
- $200 million for routine maintenance
- #336.1 million in Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG)
This increased funding aids in improving our infrastructure and also ensure citizen safety on roads and bridges.
Investments to our education system were essential to the AFY 2016 budget.
- $204 million to Georgia’s K-12 system
- $109.9 million for midterm enrollment growth
- $30 million in lottery funds for HOPE/Zell Miller Scholarships
- $20.2 million for the Move on When Ready program (allowing eligible students to take advantage of dual enrollment programs)
- $14.9 million through the OneGeorgia Authority to continue providing grants to local school systems to advance wireless broadband connectivity
- $525,808 for the North Georgia Military Scholarship Grant
Additional funding was provided in other areas, such as Georgia’s health services.
- $59 million for growth in the Medicaid and Peachcare programs (funds will cover high-cost prescriptions, increased cost of the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program, and overall program growth)
- $17.1 million toward Medicare payments
- $2.3 million toward office expansion/relocation of four county offices that are the most active in the Community Care Services Program
In addition to passing the AFY 2016 budget, we were able to pass House Bill 742, which is an annual Internal Revenue Code (IRC) update which makes changes to Georgia’s tax code by synchronizing tax return filing dates to allow most businesses in Georgia to file state and federal returns simultaneously. HB 742 would also make permanent the $500,000 deduction in section 179 and the Research Tax Credit. By streamlining this process and bringing Georgia’s policy in line with federal legislation, we are easing the tax process for individuals and business owners statewide.
The House and Senate convened for a joint session in the House Chamber with the Georgia Supreme Court, the Georgia Court of Appeals and other guests for the annual State of the Judiciary Address from Chief Justice Hugh Thompson on Wednesday. Chief Justice Thompson was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1994 and was elected by his peers to a four-year term as chief justice in 2013. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle welcomed the Chief Justice to the rostrum where he updated us on the current state of Georgia’s judicial system.
Chief Justice Thompson called Georgia the “gateway to the South,” and to the country. Chief Justice Thompson noted our population has almost doubled since implementing the new state constitution in 1983, but the number of judges has increased only 16 percent. Thompson applauded the passage of House Bill 279 during the 2015 session, which added three judges to the Court of Appeals in Georgia. The addition of these judges has led to the hearing of five times the number of cases each year, allowing the Supreme Court of Georgia to focus on more complex cases.
Chief Justice Thompson transitioned to new technology within the court system, which is overseen by the newly commissioned Judicial Council Standing Committee on Technology, established by a Supreme Court order. A top priority for the committee is transitioning all state of Georgia court systems from paper documents to electronic filings. Both the Supreme Court of Georgia and Court of Appeals have transitioned to e-filing systems, with a goal of developing a statewide filing and retrieving portal that all courts can access.
Chief Justice Thompson commended Governor Nathan Deal on his commitment to criminal justice reform, noting that the state’s prisons are at their lowest point in 10 years, and the recidivism rate is the lowest in 30 years. These improvements are attributed, in part, to the expansion of our state’s now 131 accountability courts (a cost-effective criminal justice alternative for non-violent offenders, where offenders are held accountable through court-supervised treatment programs). These courts have reduced crime by 45 percent, and have saved the state more than $51 million in prison costs in 2015.
In the third week of session, we took time to recognize some of our state’s most admirable citizens. On Monday, January 25, the House celebrated Georgia National Guard Day in honor of our brave Georgians in uniform. Members of the Georgia National Guard were recognized on the House floor and presented with House Resolution 1007. It was an honor to have Adjutant General Joe Jarrard and members of the Georgia National Guard with us in the House, where we were also privileged to witness a new member of the Georgia National Guard be sworn into the Army National Guard by our very own colleague and WWII veteran, Representative John Yates (R-Griffin). These soldiers embody the true meaning of patriotism, and I cannot thank them enough for their service to ourstate and to our country.
As the 2016 legislative session moves into its fourth week, committees will be meeting more frequently to discuss pieces of legislation. I would love to hear your input on any bills that come before the House, because your comments help guide my decisions on Capitol Hill. I encourage you to call my office at the State Capitol in Atlanta at 770.957.3937. I can also be reached via email at email@example.com. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.