Georgia House OKs budget changes, restoring most K-12 cuts

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ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia’s House on Thursday approved an amended budget that restores more than 60% of what was cut from aid to K-12 schools, sending it to the Senate for more work.

The House voted 149-20 to approve House Bill 80, which changes parts of the budget that runs through June 30, increasing spending of state funds to $26.6 billion, with billions more in federal money.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, an Auburn Republican, told House members that lawmakers “did what we had to do” when they cut spending by nearly $2.2 billion in June, but that better-than-predicted tax revenues now allow some cuts to be restored. That includes $567 million of $950 million that was cut from the state’s K-12 school funding formula.

“Where your treasure lies, so does your heart. You can leave here today saying you believe that,” England told House members. “We spend well over 50% of the state’s budget on education. It is our priority. To say otherwise is dishonest.”

Universities and technical colleges will also get some new funding, but most other agencies won’t see much funding restored, leaving a budget more than $1.2 billion lower than lawmakers and Gov. Brian Kemp had originally proposed last year. A few agencies will get money back, including the judiciary and university research units that don’t collect tuition.

Amending the budget is an annual ritual, but is rocketing through the General Assembly this year, with leaders pressing for a new spending plan quickly in case a COVID-19 outbreak forces lawmakers to go home for an extended period. Senate committees will begin considering the budget on Friday.

The House document shifts other money around. The Department of Public Health would get $18 million to modernize and replace the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services. The registry has been in the spotlight as the state struggles to document how many coronavirus vaccines health care providers have administered.

Under the amended budget proposal, the state also would set aside $286,000 to bolster Department of Public Health leadership, including hiring a chief medical officer, a deputy commissioner, and a chief data officer. The department, which has subcontracted much of its public data presentation, has faced repeated complaints about how the data has been published during the pandemic.

England said the Senate would consider further investments in public health.

The House proposal also would dedicate $19.3 million more to nursing homes. Skilled nursing facilities say they are suffering from high costs and low occupancy because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

House members approved Kemp’s proposed to shift funds in the state prison and juvenile justice systems to give guards a 10% raise beginning April 1.

Kemp had already proposed spending tens of millions in one-time money on new vehicles, but the House upped the ante by proposing $38.6 million to buy roughly 500 new school buses statewide.

A new 10-bed crisis facility for intellectually disabled adults with mental health problems would be opened using $1.8 million in federal money.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

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