Georgia Senate appears set to back raises for teachers, state workers


The Georgia Senate is expected this week to back a record state budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes pay raises for 200,000 teachers and state employees and more than $1 billion worth of new construction projects.

The plan also includes $485,000 so Senate committee meetings can be streamed over the internet. Currently, House meetings are streamed, but the Senate has in the past resisted making its meetings accessible to people who can’t attend live.

The Senate’s $25 billion spending plan for fiscal 2018, which begins July 1, follows much of what Gov. Nathan Deal proposed and the House has already approved. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the chamber’s plan Monday.

Passage in the Senate will set up final negotiations with the House. The General Assembly must approve the budget for fiscal 2018 before the session ends March 30.

The total spending plan tops $49 billion when federal and other funds are included. Officials say, however, that when inflation and population growth are added to the equation, the state is spending about what it was at the end of the 1990s.

The state budget helps fund the education of more than 2 million students and provides health and nursing care for about 2 million Georgians. The state funds road improvements and prisons, economic development initiatives and cancer research, business and environmental regulation, parks and water projects. It creates thousands of private-sector jobs through construction projects.

It would provide 2 percent pay increases for teachers and most state employees, and a 19 percent raise for child protection workers.

The spending proposal includes more than $1.15 billion in new borrowing. High on the list is $105 million to build a new state courts building on the site of the former archives building in Atlanta, which was brought down earlier this month.

The bond package also includes $73 million more to complete a new technical college campus in Deal’s home county of Hall.

Deal had added $10 million to the budget in 2015 to buy the land and $48.3 million last year to get the construction started. Combined, if given final approval as expected, the state will have borrowed more than $130 million to move Lanier Technical College from one end of the county to the other and create a new campus.

Under the budget, doctors would receive an increase in payments for treating Medicaid patients, and millions more would go to increasing autism services for children in the program, which provides health care to the poor and disabled. The Senate added $46 million to increase payments to nursing homes.

Both chambers also added funding for dentists who treat low-income Medicaid patients, for school counselors, and to address the backlog in processing DNA rape evidence packages.

The budget for the upcoming year includes $223 million to help keep the state’s Teachers Retirement System on strong financial footing. State officials said the payment is one of the largest subsidies — if not the largest — in the program’s history.


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