The Georgia Senate Appropriations Committee met Wednesday morning to discuss changes to House Bill 793, which details the state’s budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. While the committee made some changes and reductions to previously proposed budget cuts, this new proposal still includes deep cuts that touch nearly every service and program Georgians rely on.
The Georgia Constitution requires the state to maintain a balanced budget, which means the government cannot spend more money than it collects in revenues. Gov. Kemp has yet to issue an official revised revenue estimate amid the effects of COVID-19, but the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed its budget proposal using an estimate developed with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget to make spending cuts of 11 percent, approximately $2.6 billion.
After committee approval, the Georgia Senate voted in favor of the updated budget proposal on June 19. Many state agencies now face up to 12 furlough days, as well as staff cuts and hiring freezes. Here are some highlights of agency budgets and changes made in this FY 2021 budget proposal:
K-12 Public Education
- $1.05 billion cut from the Quality Basic Education program, the formula that dictates the bulk of state spending for public education
- A $25 million reduction in funding for school counselors, which the House of Representatives previously added
- $15 million cut from pupil transportation, which would lead to the state spending less on transportation for public schools than Georgia did in FY 2002 when there were 304,000 fewer students to support
Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
- $122 million cut in total funding
- $40.1 million cut to services for adults with developmental disabilities
- $24.1 million cut to child and adolescent mental health services, including prevention programs and supported education and employment services
- $19.1 million cut to adult mental health services, including workforce training, core behavioral health services and housing vouchers for people with mental illnesses
- $9.4 million cut to adult substance abuse services
Department of Community Health
- A $205 million reduction in state funds was offset by an increase in federal Medicaid and PeachCare funds, which helped prevent cuts being made to Medicaid eligibility, benefits or provider payments
- $2.3 million added to provide three months of postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers with low incomes
- 24 residency slots added for primary care medicine
- The majority of the department’s budget cuts impact attached agencies like the Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce, with cuts to loan repayment awards for rural health care providers and funding that supports medical schools, residency and fellowship programs
Department of Public Health
- $27.4 million cut in total funding
- $13.9 million cut from grants for local health departments
- $4.9 million cut to health promotion funds, including $1.5 million from the maternal mortality review committee and a reduction in grants for organizations researching and education about sickle cell disease and cancer
- A $100 million cut to the Department of Human Services budget, representing a 12 percent cut from FY 2020
- A transfer of $46 million in unobligated Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds to replace state funds in adoption services; TANF is meant to provide limited emergency cash assistance to low income families with children
- Eliminates 18 TANF contracts for community partnerships, which support TANF work assistance
- The Department of Human Services previously planned to close and consolidate 50 Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS) statewide, but the latest budget proposal does not specify this number
Department of Corrections
- $133 million cut in total funding
- $85.5 million cut from state prisons and $13.9 million cut from private prisons
- $17.1 million in cuts as a result of facility closures
- $8.9 million cut from transition centers
- Eliminates a previous proposal for pay raises for all employees earning under $40,000
- $250 million cut to the University System of Georgia and $40 million cut to the Technical College System of Georgia; budget cuts will result in furlough days, layoffs, downsizing and elimination of programs, instructional site closures, elimination of student success initiatives and more
- No reductions to pre-K funding, aside from minor decreases to operational costs; a previous budget proposal included eliminating 4,000 pre-K slots
- No reductions to HOPE, with routine adjustments to meet projected needs
- $4.4 million cut to public libraries
- 11 percent cuts to REACH Georgia, a needs-based mentoring and scholarship program, and all other state-funded scholarships
- 12 percent cuts to agricultural services like the Cooperative Extension Service, which support rural Georgia
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s budget proposal will now move to the Senate floor. Georgia Lawmakers still have options that could immediately lift state tax collections by nearly $1.3 billion and avert steep cuts that would harm Georgians in every corner of the state. These options include:
- Increasing Georgia’s tobacco tax, which currently ranks No. 48 out of 50 states, to the national average to generate roughly $600 million per year.
- Trimming back the $9.8 billion in annual tax expenditures, credits and loopholes offered in Georgia.
- Eliminating Georgia’s itemized tax break for state taxes paid, also known as the “double deduction,” which could generate $175 million per year.
These common-sense proposals increase revenue without impacting the amount of taxes paid by the vast majority of families and actually level the playing field for most Georgians. Tell lawmakers they have options to raise revenues instead of making deep budget cuts that could harm Georgia families for years.
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