Editor’s Note: Senator Bill Cowsert is the Georgia Senate Majority Leader. He represents the 46th Senate District, which includes Oconee County and portions of Clarke and Walton counties. He may be reached by phone at (404) 463.1366 or via email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter.
There is only one bill that the Georgia General Assembly has to pass each year – the budget. It is our predominant duty, more important than any law we pass under the Gold Dome and a duty more important that any partisan agenda. As your elected representatives and senators, we must remain good stewards of your money.
It is my opinion that Georgia citizens work harder and better than anyone else in the world. When the government takes a percentage of your money – no matter how small – we must ensure that Georgia and its citizens are better off for the effort.
The Georgia Constitution, unlike its federal counterpart, mandates a balanced budget. Since we cannot spend more than our tax revenues, we had to make large budget cuts when revenues fell during the great recession. As the economy recovers, our revenues are growing more than they have in many years, allowing us to restore funding in many areas of state government. We are seeing that Georgia – through budget cuts and thoughtful planning – has emerged from the recession stronger than most states. We are in an excellent position to prosper even more in the coming years.
In Georgia, we keep a “rainy day” fund to help balance our budget when the economy has an inevitable downturn. Our rainy day fund was more than $1.6 billion in 2007. These reserves helped us to weather the storm of the recession.
Our reserves dropped to almost nothing in the depths of the recession, but we have made it a priority to rebuild our rainy day fund over the past several years. Today, it is approximately $862 million, leaving Georgia in a great position to weather inevitable down cycles in the future. I am hopeful we will again have more than $1 billion in reserves by the end of this fiscal year.
This past week, the General Assembly has been in recess to allow the House and Senate Appropriation Committees to review proposed mid-year adjustments to the 2015 budget and to review the Governor’s proposed budget for the 2016 fiscal year. Mid-year adjustments for 2015 include approximately $134 million to cover school enrollment growth, $75 million towards economic development programs administered through the Department of Community Affairs, and $39 million in additional health care spending.
This year, I am proud to say, Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed a budget that focuses your money on the education of our children, on the health of our children, on public safety, and on the continuation of his economic development initiatives that will cultivate an atmosphere for economic growth so Georgia’s industries can create more and better jobs.
The proposed budget for 2016 includes expected total revenues of nearly $21.8 billion. Of this, nearly $12 billion is budgeted for education funding (pre-kindergarten through higher education), almost $5 billion for health care programs, and approximately $1.8 billion on public safety. These three areas alone make up more than 85 percent of our total budget.
For 2016, the Governor expects to add $550 million in spending for K-12 education. The funds will cover enrollment growth, an increase in the number of school days, reductions in teacher furloughs, improvement of bandwidth for schools’ internet services, and reliable education assessment programs. The Governor plans to add another $230 million toward education facilities and equipment.
In the coming weeks bills proposed, debated and passed by the General Assembly will complement the Governor’s initiatives and his proposed budget. I look forward to working for my constituents and with my constituents as we allocate our money toward the best purposes for this state.