Gov. Brian Kemp signed a $30.2 billion state budget Thursday that includes pay raises for teachers and state employees.
The fiscal 2023 spending plan, which takes effect July 1, is just shy of the record $30.3 billion fiscal 2022 mid-year budget covering state spending through June 30.
It includes the $2,000 final installment of a $5,000 pay hike for Georgia teachers Kemp promised on the campaign trail four years ago.
Most state workers also will get $5,000 raises, while larger increases will go to correctional officers in the adult and juvenile prison system plagued with high turnover rates.
State retirees will receive their first cost-of-living adjustment in 14 years.
The budget also contains a $180 million increase in mental health spending, the largest in the state’s history, and $28 million to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers from the current six months to a year.
In the criminal justice arena, the budget funds a new state trooper class of 75 cadets, an expansion of the attorney general’s human trafficking unit and a newly created gang prosecution unit.
“We have prioritized education, public safety and health care, even when we faced truly unprecedented times,” Kemp said during a budget signing ceremony at the University of North Georgia’s Blue Ridge campus.
Kemp said state coffers are flush with enough money to cover the various spending increases because he reopened Georgia’s economy earlier than many other states during the early months of the pandemic.
But Democrats attributed the additional spending to the availability of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan a Democratic-controlled Congress passed shortly after President Joe Biden took office last year.
“After calling Democrats’ American Rescue Plan a ‘slap in the face for hardworking Georgians,’ Brian Kemp is hypocritically trying to take credit because he thinks it will help his chances of reelection,” said Max Flugrath, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia.
While the state pours additional funds into education, public safety and health care, the budget also made room for a one-time $1.1 billion tax refund. A phased-in $1 billion state income tax cut will kick in starting in 2024.
The refunds are starting to go out to taxpayers this week. However, the process isn’t expected to be completed until August due to the volume of refunds.
“This is a good budget, one which invests strategically in … a growing, thriving state while at the same time keeping state government lean and returning every dollar possible to the taxpayer,” said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.
Ralston noted the budget also will provide $13 million to expand the Blue Ridge campus that hosted Thursday’s signing ceremony.
The budget also includes $388 million to restore cuts to the state’s K-12 student funding formula imposed during the pandemic.
In higher education, the spending plan does away with special institutional fees the University System of Georgia began charging students during the Great Recession and raises tuition coverage offered by the HOPE Scholarships program to 90% for most qualified students.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.