As Georgia lawmakers opened the 2017 General Assembly January 9, our top legislative priorities included renewal of a fee critical to the state’s health care system, momentum for a bottom-up tax cut for workers and commitment to supporting high-quality public schools.
Lawmakers debated those issues and many others before adjourning late yesterday. Today’s recap updates some of our top priorities from January, as well some others picked up during the 40-day legislative session.
Extend the state Medicaid provider fee to keep hospitals open and help ensure Georgians can see a doctor. Lawmakers and Gov. Nathan Deal agreed and expedited approval. Georgia lawmakers use the fee to raise roughly $311 million a year and draw down more than $600 million in federal funds. Georgia’s rural hospitals already struggle and hundreds of thousands of people are uninsured. Georgia can still expand Medicaid to close the insurance coverage gap and tackle other health challenges after Washington’s early unsuccessful attempts to undo the Affordable Care Act.
Give a tax break to Georgia families working their way to the middle class. House leadership included a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in a broader tax bill and representatives sent it to the state Senate to consider. Also known as a Georgia Work Credit, the tax break for Georgians who work in low-wage jobs didn’t survive the late-session negotiations between the chambers. The broader tax package died on the last day of the session as well. The 2017 legislative session is the beginning of a two-year cycle and the tax legislation is now carried over until next year. The Georgia Work Credit and other sound tax reforms will remain a priority for GBPI.
Scrutinize plans to shift money from public schools. Lawmakers considered redirecting state money to pay for private education, while setting aside for the second year a broader plan to remake Georgia’s school funding formula. House Bill 217 proposed to raise the cap to $100 million from the current $58 million on a program that diverts tax revenue from the state to organizations that provide private school scholarships. State senators tried to trim that increased cap to $65 million, but couldn’t come to an agreement with House members before the session ended and the cap remains at $58 million. Educational Savings Account legislation to benefit private education at potential state cost of up to $710 million in three years gained little traction.
Protect Georgia’s economy and budget by ensuring a welcoming environment for immigrants. One Senate bill and two House bills threatened to waste up to $1 million in state taxpayer dollars to change driver’s license and identification cards issued to immigrants, including refugees and legal permanent residents. These were among a series of bills designed to make it harder for foreign-born Georgians to attend school or live and work in peace. None of these measures promised to fix a problem, but did take an unwelcoming stance on immigrant students, workers and business leaders.
State lawmakers sent the proposed $25 billion 2018 budget to the governor’s desk before the 40th legislative day, an uncommon occurrence. Some notable things he’ll consider before his early-May deadline to sign the 2018 budget that takes effect July 1:
- A much-needed boost to salaries of child welfare workers by 19 percent is $26 million of the governor’s 2018 budget proposal, designed to tamp down the 32 percent turnover rate among caseworkers in the Department of Family and Children Services. The state added more than 600 child welfare positions in the last three budget years
- $11 million for a new Integrated Eligibility System to more efficiently help qualified Georgians gain access to Medicaid, food stamp benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other public supports
- $5.4 million for 107 new child welfare workers to better safeguard young Georgians in peril
- $160 million for a long overdue 2 percent cost of living adjustment for certified K-12 teachers, school bus drivers and school nurses
- $19.3 million for waivers that allow Georgians with physical or intellectual disabilities to receive care at home or in the community rather than live in residential facilities
Our analysts now start to dig into the nitty gritty of the state budget, preparing to tell the story in our annual budget primer to be published soon after the 2017 fiscal year ends June 30.