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Tillery: Week One and Two Highlights

The Georgia General Assembly has convened for the 2022 Session. It seems to come faster each year. Please know, though this is now my sixth year, I am still so honored at the faith and trust you placed in me by allowing me to represent you in Atlanta. It is humbling and I will not forget my job is to serve you and be a good steward of your resources. Thank you, as always, for the opportunity and I look forward to keeping you updated throughout the year.

As many of you know, two years ago my roll changed significantly when I became Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The 3rd week of January is always set aside for the budget exclusively, so we’ll focus this week’s column there. There’s simply no way to sum up all the matters in the state budget in one article (or one book!). You’ve likely seen news articles on some of these items so let me focus on those you may not hear in other media outlets.

Income Tax Cut: Governor’s recommended pay raise for state employees and teachers has been widely reported. You can read about this in many other outlets. His recommended income tax reduction has been less reported. If passed, the reduction is tailored to those who actually pay taxes and would be a $250 tax cut for an individual and $500 for joint filers. I strongly support this item. The government doesn’t spend its money; it spends your money.

Education: The largest additions to this budget are in education. K-12’s QBE formula is fully funded as are enrollment and growth in the University System and Technical College System. Education now makes up 52% of all state spending, or $15.8 billion.

Foster Care: This year’s budget includes funding to provide services to prevent the need for foster care by preventing child abandonment to the state in the first place including, autism respite care, an autism pilot project based in Southeast Georgia, and technological upgrades to identify at-risk youth before families reach the end of their capacity. It also includes funding and strategies to end the wasteful and horrible practice of hoteling while providing an increase for case workers. This budget also provides a 10% increase to funding to foster families to encourage others and recognize that many of these families use their own resources to serve our most needy.

Healthcare and Attestation: Healthcare in Georgia still remains a top priority. The bipartisan Patients First Act, which I sponsored in the Senate, has shown tremendous improvement since its debut in 2019 with numbers nearly tripling. Now, 98% of all counties in the state have more than one option of carrier for insurance coverage meaning lowered prices and a wider array of benefits for Georgians. We are working hard to expand nursing and residency programs across the University System of Georgia to allow for an extra 1,300 healthcare practitioners in the state which can particularly benefit rural Georgia. In regards to Attestation, this is a nuanced, bureaucratic issue that affects mostly rural physicians and providers who have come to our state, moved their office (even a block!), or earned their license since 2015. Because of a federal program and limited state funding, providers who fell into one of the above categories were compensated less than a provider outside of those categories for the exact same service. This is a matter we’ve tried to address for years, but the sheer cost was prohibited. The cost to remedy this is a staggering $85 million, but because of strong revenues the Governor and legislature are committed to fixing this issue this year and the proposed budget does so.

Mental Health: This was a problem for Georgia before the pandemic; the pandemic has exacerbated it greatly. Georgia has seen an 8.5% increase in the number of suicides in rural areas; this is a real problem and is affecting Georgia families. The proposed budget includes funding in Dept. of Human Services, Dept. of Community Health, and Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to provide much needed resources to families and victims. This budget also proposes the extension of a pilot project imbedding mental health workers with law enforcement force assistance in certain response matters. We’ve seen promising signs at a pilot in Forsyth County and we’re studying whether it could be replicated elsewhere.

Corrections: In addition to the prosed $5,000 pay raise for correctional officers, the proposed budget includes additional funding for Corrections. The prisoner today is statistically more dangerous due to criminal justice reform. Gangs are prevalent and our prisons themselves are aging- Georgia State Prison is now 90 years old! The Governor’s budget recommends $600 million to bring two new prisons online with newer infrastructure for both guard and prisoner safety while closing four older, more dangerous facilities.

Courts/Public Safety: The Governor has allocated a huge amount – over $100 million – in federal ARPA funds to move the backlog of criminal court proceedings. Justice delayed is often justice denied and the Governor’s move here helps Georgians awaiting resolution.

Lastly, I want to temper thoughts that Georgia’s current strong revenues will continue. The US economy has been inflated by federal spending at levels never before imagined. Our supply chain remains taxed and many citizens have exited the workforce. While I believe those workers will return as federal supplements expire, we have no previous data to confirm so. Additional data shows our red-hot housing market is beginning to cool as home prices fell almost 5% in December. We must be cautious about spending like we’re loaded – we are not.

I look forward to updating you next week on some of the bills I’ve filed and other legislation beginning to move in the Senate. As always, please don’t hesitate to call if I can answer your question specifically, and if you find yourself near the Capitol in the next few months, please stop in.

Sen. Blake Tillery serves as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

By Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia)

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