Georgia Senate approves budget maintaining higher spending

March 25, 2022 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Senate on Friday unanimously passed a state budget for next year that continues increased spending on education, health care and other priorities amid a surge in tax revenue and federal funding.

A Democratic leader said the budget did not do enough to address “chronic underfunding” in education and health care.

The Senate budget would spend $53 billion overall in the fiscal year starting in July, including $30.2 billion in state tax money and $17.7 billion in federal money. The House passed its own budget proposal earlier in March.

Many of the biggest items in the Senate budget show no change from the House proposal, but there are differences that will now have to be settled in negotiations before the measure can get final approval and go to the governor for his signature or veto.

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“There is some cautiousness in this budget,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery, a Vidalia Republican, said Friday about the Senate budget. “We’ve tried to not spend every dollar that we were sent.”

Tillery said budget writers tried to put new spending into “one-time funds” to give the state flexibility to reassess priorities in the future.

The budget would continue $2,000 raises for teachers and $5,000 raises for state employees and lawmakers that will begin April 1. It would also pay the first cost-of-living increase in 14 years to retired state employees who draw pensions from the Employees Retirement System.

Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, said there were good things in the budget, but the state should also fully expand Medicaid and implement an earned income tax credit.

“The budget still doesn’t address cumulative effects of underfunding vital agencies and services,” she said.

Budget talks between the House and Senate are likely to last until nearly the April 4 end of this year’s General Assembly session.