Legislative Update – Week 5

On Monday, February 10, legislators returned to the State Capitol for the fifth week of the session. Last week, we voted to postpone meeting on the House floor in order to devote additional time to the state budgeting process, and this week, the House Appropriations subcommittees held several meetings to finalize the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY 2020) and Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) budgets. Crafting the state budget is always an arduous process, and the fifth week of session proved to be especially significant as we dedicated our time to gathering more information on potential budget adjustments. Our state Constitution requires us to have a balanced budget, a practice our counterparts in Washington should look to adopt!

Governor Brian Kemp previously instructed our state agencies to reduce spending by four percent in AFY 2020 and six percent in FY 2021, saving taxpayers millions of dollars on inefficient operational costs. Gov. Kemp’s recommended budget would reduce operational spending by $216 million in the AFY 2020 budget and an additional $341 million in the FY 2021 budget. Even with these reductions, the FY 2021 budget is still set at several hundred million dollars above the current fiscal year’s budget.

Over the last ten years, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Resources has worked to secure additional state funding to improve mental health services and bolster programs that provide treatment for citizens with substance abuse issues in Georgia, and this week, we learned more about budget adjustments in these areas. The governor’s proposal for the AFY 2020 budget would amend the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ budget to save $34.3 million.  The Appropriations Committee will look carefully at how these savings can be achieved while continuing to provide quality services to the people who need them.

This week, we also examined areas of Gov. Kemp’s budget that includes services for our rural communities.  Each of our 159 counties has its own local health department, which is sometimes the closest, if not the only location where citizens in rural areas can receive health care services. These health departments provide preventative care, offer innovative telehealth services for residents to receive care remotely via video conference and conduct necessary environmental health inspections of restaurants and hotels.  While these departments find ways to save our tax dollars, the House will continue to lead the charge in creating legislative solutions that aid rural communities, improve the quality of life and ensure access to basic health care services for rural Georgians.

We also spent time this week examining proposed budget adjustments for agricultural education and research programs that aid the state’s farmers and agricultural industry in a variety of ways. In prior budgets, the General Assembly appropriated additional funding for programs like the University System of Georgia’s Agricultural Experiment Stations and Cooperative Extension Services. Under Gov. Kemp’s AFY 2020 budget proposal, these programs would be reduced by approximately $6.2 million, and the programs would see a reduction of more than $7.6 million in the FY 2021 budget. This would reduce funding for vacant positions, contractual services, operating expenses and maintenance costs for these programs. Agriculture is the number one industry in Georgia, and we will remain committed to maintaining this title as we consider funding for these programs.

We received word this week that the federal government is taking steps to support the growth and expansion of the Savannah harbor and Port of Savannah, which is one of the busiest ports in the country and an economic driver in our state. President Donald Trump announced that his budget proposal includes $93.6 million in funds for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which will deepen Savannah’s harbor to allow for larger vessels. This vital project has a total projected cost of $1 billion, and these federal funds will help the project stay on track to finish by 2022. Additionally, the Georgia Ports Authority announced that the Port of Savannah has been awarded $34.6 million through the Port Infrastructure Development Grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation to modernize the port’s loading docks. The Port of Savannah plays an important role in global commerce, and these investments will provide a great opportunity for the port to remain a worldwide leader in imports and exports.

By the end of the fifth week, the House Appropriations Committee began voting on portions of the AFY 2020 budget from the subcommittees on transportation, education and economic development. Next week, the committee is expected to take up the remaining portions of the amended budget from the other appropriations subcommittees and consider the entire AFY 2020 budget bill. In the meantime, we will also keep working to finalize the FY 2021 budget bill.

Just like your budget at home, our state budget needs to be reasonable and thrifty.  I support the Governor’s effort to reduce spending wherever we can do so without negatively impacting critical services. 84998536_2756319674403597_276204068290953216_o.jpg

We were honored to celebrate Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Day at the Capitol on February 12.  It was my pleasure to host Tyler Thomas and his family from Walton County, and to see representatives of the many young people who are served by this top-notch provider. Chief Bill Owens and members of the Monroe Fire Department also visited this week during Firefighters’ Day.  Our first responders do a fantastic job and I am grateful for their service.

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While the state budget bills continue to make their way through the legislative process, I encourage you to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have regarding the process or any budget recommendations. My Capitol office number is 404-656-5024, and my email address is bruce.williamson@house.ga.gov. Please contact me anytime.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.

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