The spending plans from the Republican governor would raise government spending by roughly $255 million for the fiscal year ending in June, or just more than 1 percent of the previously approved budget of nearly $18.3 billion. Deal has asked lawmakers to spend $19.2 billion the following year, which is 5 percent more than the current budget.
After years of hacking away at the state budget, the state’s political leaders believe new spending is possible because tax collections have gradually rebounded for more than a year as salaries and spending slowly increase. Still, a deep economic slump has left nearly 10 percent of workers in Georgia without jobs.
“After several difficult years for both Georgia and its citizens, we are now seeing slow but steady progress in the state’s economic and fiscal condition, and we are guardedly optimistic,” Deal said in a letter accompanying his budget.
Lawmakers in the GOP-dominated General Assembly will review and can alter Deal’s spending requests during their three-month legislative sessions, which started this week. Democratic and Republicans leaders did not
immediately return calls seeking comment on Deal’s plan.
The governor used his State of the State address Tuesday to outline many of his key fiscal goals, particularly in education. Deal’s budget would increase the school calendar by 10 days for children enrolled in state-funded pre-kindergarten classes, restoring half of the days he cut last year to help the program stay afloat. But this extension comes with a price: the state would pay for the extra days by cutting slots for 2,000 pre-k students.
Deal has proposed spending about $258 million to accommodate growth in the state’s K-12 schools and its higher education system. His plan would allot an additional $56 million to increase the pay of the state teachers, a group that took big financial cuts during the recession. Spending on lottery-funded HOPE Scholarships for college students would not change after lawmakers cut the program sharply last year.
To boost the economy, Deal said he wants lawmakers to eliminate taxes that businesses pay on the energy needed to manufacture goods and the construction materials necessary to build significant regional projects.