3/9/2018 - Time is flying, and now we have just finished the ninth week of the 2018 legislative session. Surely enjoyed having Eli as a Page for me at the Capitol. Last week we spent a lot of time finishing the 2019 Budget to send it over to the Senate for them to look at, and for the House to start looking over the Senate bills from Crossover Day. So this stressful but interesting time right now is a lot of committee meetings and personal meetings with Senate members and learning about their bills and for us to meet with them and explain ours.
The Georgia General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year, and the House took a step in filling this constitutional obligation on Friday, March 9, by passage of House Bill 684, the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 2019) Budget. The FY 2019 Budget was determined by a revenue estimate of $26 billion. The House Appropriations Committee carefully reviewed each portion of the budget and meticulously allocated state dollars towards our stateís needs. I serve on the Higher Education Appropriations Committee that oversees the budget of institutions like Chattahoochee Technical College and the University of Georgia.
As I have talked about in previous columns, the House Rural Development Councilís (RDC) work during the summer and fall of 2017 has driven much of this yearís legislative agenda, and as a result of the RDCís comprehensive study of the issues plaguing rural Georgia, the FY 2019 Budget allocates state funding toward a wide range of initiatives to assist our rural communities based on the RDCís recommendations. Some of this rural funding is specifically aimed at boosting economic development in rural Georgia, including funding for the Department of Agricultureís Georgia Grown marketing program; a downtown development attorney to help Georgiaís small towns secure redevelopment grants and the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations. The budget also includes state dollars for several key rural health programs, including two rural surgical fellowships at St. Joseph's/Candler Hospital; a statewide residency recruitment fair for rural medical facilities; insurance premium assistance for physicians who practice in underserved counties with one or less physicians; 10 regional Emergency Medical Services (EMS) training positions to train EMS personnel in rural Georgia; and the Rural Health Systems Innovation Center. Additionally, the FY 2019 Budget includes appropriations for various programs for rural Georgiaís children, such as funding for soft skills training and character education development for rural Georgiaís lowest performing schools; and a mobile audiology clinic to provide audiological care to children in rural Georgia.
Each year, education funding is always one of the largest budget items in the state budget, and this year is no exception, with 55.9 percent of the entire budget allocated to education. First and foremost, the FY 2019 budget includes $119.5 million for K-12 enrollment growth and training and experience for an additional 6,552 students and 1,869 teachers across the state, and $361.7 million for the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) to support 117,957 retired and 218,193 active TRS members. Additionally, the state budget allots $1.6 million for a student mental health awareness training program, including response and intervention training, for students in preschool through 12th grade. Finally, one of the most important education appropriations included in the FY 2019 Budget was $8 million for school security grants to improve security in Georgiaís schools, which was added to the budget in light of one of the deadliest school shootings in recent history. This funding is instrumental in helping to protect Georgiaís students, teachers and school staff members, and we hope that our Senate counterparts will join us in adding supplementary school security funding as well.
Mental health initiatives are also a significant budgetary focus in the House. Specifically, the 2019 budget implements the Commission on Childrenís Mental Healthís recommendations by funding child and adolescent crisis services, including four new respite homes; 13 new Georgia APEX Program grants to expand mental health services to students in 100 more schools; telemedicine equipment and services; and high-fidelity wraparound services training that will impact up to 3,000 young Georgians. The FY 2019 Budget also includes funding to expand the Georgia Crisis Access Lineís operating hours and to create a mobile application to provide mental health crisis services.
The 2019 Budget includes many, many more allocations designed to meet the wide-ranging needs of our state, such as funding to clear hurricane debris and remove sunken vessels along the Georgia coastline and dollars to implement several economic development projects across the state. The budget also includes an extra $15.1 million for growth in out-of-home care and $15.2 million in additional funding to increase foster care per diem rates for relative and child placement agency foster care.
And, like I talked about in my article last week, this budget includes the first tax cut in Georgia income tax since the 40ís.
With only eight legislative days remaining until we adjourn sine die, the General Assembly is in the final stretch of the 2018 legislative session. Legislative Day 40, the last day of session, is Thursday, March 29, and although we only have a few weeks left to finish our legislative business, my colleagues in the House, as well as our Senate counterparts, will be hard at work to ensure that we pass meaningful legislation for the people of our great state. Until then, please feel free to reach out to me to voice any concerns or questions you have on any legislation up for consideration in the House or the Senate. I was asked in the line at a store yesterday if I have my tomato seeds planted and fortunately I could say yes, but the muscadines are only half pruned! I can be reached at my Capitol office at 404-656-7857, or by email at email@example.com.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative.