(The Center Square) – Gov. Brian Kemp is proposing giving Georgia state employees and teachers pay raises and increasing spending on education, crime reduction and foster care this legislative session.
Kemp laid out his priorities for the current and next fiscal year during Thursday's state of the state address. In addition to increased spending, Kemp wants to expand gun rights and boost the state's law enforcement and health care workforce.
"The bold, conservative agenda I've outlined over the last few days prioritizes education, health care, and public safety," Kemp said. "It invests historic levels of resources in our students and educators."
The General Assembly must pass two budgets every legislative session. Lawmakers must review and approve spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year, known as the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) budget, and approve the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Each chamber will draft a proposal before agreeing on a final version, which Kemp must approve.
The governor released his proposal for how the state's revenue should be spent shortly after his speech.
Kemp has recommended restoring cuts he authorized in 2020 and 2021 to education. He asked the General Assembly to add an additional $425 million to the budget for K-12 schools in fiscal year 2023.
"This key priority will collectively provide an additional $1.4 billion in direct funding for our K-12 schools and invest more per K-12 student than ever before," Kemp said.
The governor also wants to give teachers $2,000 bonuses in the AFY budget and a $2,000 pay raise in fiscal year 2023. School bus drivers, nurses, nutrition workers and part-time employees would get $1,000 bonuses in the current fiscal year under his plan.
House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, said although the restoration of the cuts to education funding is welcomed news, Republicans have cut more than a billion dollars in public education funding over the past decade, so it will take more spending formula reforms to get the state where it needs to be.
Kemp also wants to invest additional money in higher education, including directing more money to the University of Georgia nursing programs and rural health care programs to train 1,300 more health care professionals. Democrats want the state to offer tuition-free technical college education.
The governor, who is running for reelection, also wants to direct $3 million to add another class of state troopers and create a second Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) gang unit to tackle crime in the state. He wants to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to improve GBI equipment and its headquarters and increase staff.
"Justice delayed is justice denied, and we will provide every resource necessary to ensure courts and prosecutors have the information they need," Kemp said. "Because safer communities lead to stronger communities, and, together, I know we can build on our significant progress over the last three years."
Kemp also wants to rebate $1.6 billion from the state's revenue surplus to taxpayers.
Outside of spending more money, Kemp said he is backing legislation that would censor obscene materials online and in school libraries and deregulate firearms.
Democrats slammed the gun rights expansion Thursday.
"More firearms on our streets? Even now, the governor seems to be more interested in getting guns in hands than shots in arms," Beverly said.
Kemp's proposal would allow eligible Georgians to carry guns without obtaining a license or permit, known as constitutional carry. Beverly said Democrats counteract with "common-sense gun laws."
Beverly also heavily criticized Kemp for not calling for a full expansion of Medicaid, which he said is a crucial need in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats have been pushing the governor to increase enrollment in the program since he took office, but Kemp has opted to implement a partial expansion.
"I believe that we should care for the sick among us," Beverly said. "We all deserve healthcare that allows us to see a doctor and get prescriptions filled when we need it – it's that simple."