Ga. Capitol roundup: Budget plan would bump university, mental health spending

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 12:22 PM EST
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ATLANTA - Georgia House members want to spend more on mental health and state universities next year, and that could have an impact on Augusta, which is home to a state university as well as a state mental hospital.

To boost the spending, House members want to use savings from the state share of the Medicaid program and reduced debt payments.

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted to approve House Bill 81, the state budget for the year beginning July 1. The measure moves forward to the full House, with debate scheduled for Friday.

The state would spend $27.2 billion in state tax money, plus billions more in federal money and money raised in fees and tuition. That’s up from $26.6 billion this year.

Many of the increases would come from putting money back that was cut during last year’s budget process, when lawmakers feared a steep drop in revenue due to the pandemic. But revenues have been running far ahead of projections for the current budget year.

House budget highlights:

  • Funding for universities would rise by $148 million, which is $17 million more than Kemp proposed.
  • The House is also supporting Kemp’s plans to spend $40 million on a rural innovation fund and $10 million to extend high-speed internet in rural areas.
  • Some state employees would get pay raises.
  • Kemp had proposed $22 million more for mental health, but House members want a $58 million boost.

Lawmakers propose big raises for themselves, other officials

ATLANTA - Georgia’s House speaker is backing a plan that would nearly double pay for lawmakers and also boost pay for all statewide officials except the governor.

Base pay for the 180 House members and 56 senators would rise from $16,200 a year to $29,908.

Lawmaker pay hasn’t changed since 1999. Republican House Speaker David Ralston told reporters Wednesday that’s too long for people to go without an increase.

House Bill 675 would increase pay after the 2022 elections. Rep. Wes Cantrell is sponsoring the bill.

The Woodstock Republican says many people can’t afford to run for office because they would lose too much income.

Last year, lawmakers and the lieutenant governor actually took a 14% pay cut, reducing salaries because of budget cuts.

Georgia Senate votes to widen special education vouchers

ATLANTA - Georgia’s Senate has approved a plan that would broaden eligibility for a Georgia program that pays for special education students to attend private schools.

The Senate voted 38-15 to pass Senate Bill 47 on Wednesday, sending it to the House.

Opponents say the expansion is vulnerable to abuse and will drain money from public school systems.

It’s one of several voucher expansions under discussion this year in Georgia. Georgia’s existing special needs scholarship program grants money to about 5,000 students who have individualized education plans and have left public schools.

The bill would expand eligibility to public school students who have accommodation plans under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, as well as students with a diagnosis of specific disability.

Georgia and other states shut down robocall scheme

ATLANTA - Georgia joined the Federal Trade Commission and 46 agencies from 37 states and the District of Columbia in stopping a operation that bombarded 67 million consumers with 1.3 billion mostly illegal charitable fundraising phone calls, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said.

The defendants collected more than $110 million, allegedly for charities. According to the complaint, the defendants knew the organizations for which they were fundraising spent little or no money on the charitable causes they claimed to support — in some cases as little as one-tenth of 1 percent.

Associated Community Services and a number of related defendants have agreed to settle charges.

The money collected from the defendants will be held in escrow and donated to actual charities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report