The Georgia Senate passed the latest version of the state’s $23.7 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, with the biggest addition a $10 million injection into the Invest Georgia economic development program. For the most part, senators only tinkered with the spending plan passed by the House of Representatives in February, which itself tacked closely to the governor’s original January proposal.
The $10 million boost to the Invest Georgia program is included in the state Board of Regents’ budget. Launched in 2013, Invest Georgia is an economic development program that aims to help the state retain high-growth startup companies. Some entrepreneurs in technology and other emerging Georgia industries struggle to find financing to build their companies in Georgia and are leaving for California, New York and other places with better access to venture capital. State lawmakers allotted $10 million to Invest Georgia since its creation and its administrators made the first round of investments over the past year. The program’s designers followed examples of well-regarded programs around the country and includes safeguards to protect taxpayers. Still, it is too early to gauge if taxpayers are getting a good value.
Senators also added nearly $4 million to the budget for the Department of Public Health to boost pay for public health nurses and for a grant program created by SB 308, which is still moving the legislative process. Public health nurses are in line for raises after senators added more than $3.1 million to the department’s budget to stem high turnover. This money adds to the recruitment and retention funding included in the budget the senators’ House colleagues sent them, and is expected to provide 10 percent raises for Georgia’s public health nurses in 2017. The Senate budget also adds $1 million for the Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting grant program, bringing new 2017 funding for this program to $2 million. The senate version of the department’s 2017 budget is more than $20 million above this year.
To find money for these increases, senators recommend several relatively small cuts in an assortment of state agencies. The primary source is the Department of Community Health, which shrinks by nearly $8 million. The Senate’s plan reduces $5.8 million from earlier versions of the budget intended to pay for high-cost prescription drugs for patients with Hepatitis C. It also reduces projected Medicaid enrollment growth expenses by $4.9 million.
Senators added more than $600,000 for reimbursement rates paid for occupational and physical therapy services to children on Medicaid, nearly $400,000 for newborn delivery and admission in rural counties and $300,000 to establish a rural grant program to providers achieve Patient Centered Medical Home distinction.
The next step for the budget’s path to the governor’s desk is a conference committee for House and Senate leaders to reconcile differences, unless representatives approve the Senate’s version as-is. For more information on GBPI’s analysis of the budget originally proposed by the governor in January, as well as the version originally passed by the House, please see our reports here.