(The Center Square) – The Georgia House approved a $27.2 billion state budget for fiscal year 2022 on Friday, representing a 5.2% increase in spending over the current fiscal year's original budget.
The proposal restores funding for education and other reductions lawmakers made to protect state coffers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The House plan also increases spending on health care and behavioral health and adds funding for new state positions and raises.
The House approved the measure, 136-31.
Two budgets are passed through the General Assembly every legislative session. Lawmakers and Gov. Brian Kemp approved last month a $26.5 billion amended spending plan for the remainder of the current fiscal year. This year's initial state budget was $25.9 billion. Kemp told state agencies last summer to reduce spending by 10% in fiscal year 2021, which now keeps expenditures below current revenues.
Budget writers maintained most of Kemp’s recommendations in both fiscal plans, which included restoring 60% of the state’s funding for its biggest expense: education. The House and Kemp allocated $9.6 billion in state funding in the 2022 plan. It also reflects in a 2.5% increase in spending on preschools. A total of $756 million more was allocated in the proposal for education.
The House recommended spending more on behavioral health and disability services than Kemp. The plan calls for spending an additional $58 million in total on behavior health, $36 million of which was added by the House.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, said it was one of the most impactful expenses in the budget. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, agreed.
“The House has taken a meaningful step forward in expanding access to a broad array of behavioral and developmental disability services for our citizens today,” Ralston said in a statement. “Our work is just beginning, but I am very proud of the investments we are making in these critical services that touch every family in Georgia."
The House plan restores funding for Hepatitis C projects and family support services for Georgians with disabilities. It also calls for increased funding for substance abuse, suicide prevention services, crisis beds and hiring six forensic peer members.
Behavior health providers also could see a 5% Medicaid and Medicare rate increase if the proposal becomes law. The total state allocation for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities would be nearly $1.2 billion.
House Democratic Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, said he voted against the spending proposal because it does not include a full expansion of Medicaid, which he said is more crucial now because of the pandemic.
Beverly proposed an amendment Friday that would fund a full Medicaid expansion. Beverly said a full expansion over the state's current plan for a partial one would secure more federal Medicaid dollars. The amendment was voted down.
The House plan increases the state’s share of the Teachers Retirement System contribution from 19.06% to 19.81%, and from 8.38% to 8.81% for the Judicial Retirement System. Georgia will save money, however, from reducing the employer share for health coverage for state employees.
The state also would continue to fund new positions in the Department of Public Health, which were added to the amended 2021 budget to help with the state’s COVID-19 efforts. The House also wants to restore cuts for its operations, legislative offices, the judicial system, tourism and child welfare services.
The proposal calls for spending nearly $1.2 million for the Department of Audits and Accounts to perform more audits, including reviewing Georgia’s tax credits and COVID-19 expense reports.
It would increase funding for new judges and juvenile public defenders and redirect funding to secure raises for state correction officers, previously set aside in the adjusted 2021 budget. Medical examiners, food inspectors, public defenders, prosecutors and state troopers could also expect a salary adjustment if the bill passes. Lawmakers allocated $4 million for recruitment and retention for the positions.
The House proposal will be sent to the Senate. Both chambers of the General Assembly must agree on a 2022 budget before the spending plan is sent to Kemp for final approval. The new fiscal year begins July 1.