ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday signed a $19.3 billion budget that reflects Georgia’s modest revenue gains in a recovering economy and his administration’s priorities. The budget includes slightly more money for education and funding to support reforms to the state’s criminal justice system.
Georgia’s 2013 budget increases state spending by about 4.5 percent – less than $1 billion – over fiscal year 2012. The fiscal year 2013 budget remains 8.6 percent, or $1.8 billion, under the 2009 budget of $21.2 billion, the state’s highest budget passed to date.
Under the plan, effective July 1, Georgia would spend roughly $39.5 billion in state and federal money. That includes more than $20 billion generated by the federal government.
“Together with the General Assembly, we have enacted a budget that holds the line on spending, while investing in the priorities that will contribute to making Georgia the No. 1 place in the country to do business and create jobs and continue our high quality of life,” Deal said in a statement.
The bulk of state spending will be on education and health-related programs, and the budget includes two line-item vetoes.
One rejects $256,800 to finance the renovation of the Rural Development Center at the University of Georgia Tifton campus. Deal said the project was not requested by the Board of Regents and was not identified as a priority in the agency’s capital plan.
The second item declines $133,476 for upgrades and maintenance to the Riceboro Southern Railway bridges, Georgia Southwestern Railroad and Chattooga and Chickamauga Railway. Deal said funding for these projects should be considered in conjunction with other state rail needs.
Funding for the HOPE scholarship will remain at the same award amount as fiscal year 2012, and the budget appropriates $20 million in low-interest college loans for next year. HOPE faced dramatic cuts in the 2011 Legislature as the lottery revenues stalled.
The budget also includes $35.2 million to pay for more than 2,600 additional beds in two private prisons, $10 million in grants for county drug and mental health courts, $46.7 million in bonds for the Savannah port deepening project, $10 million for rural economic development and $5.7 million for a database to track tax cheats.
Deal has also used the down economy to shutter or consolidate state agencies. Deal noted Monday the size of the state workforce is lower than it has been in more than 14 years, and has been reduced by 12.4 percent.
Georgia Budget and Policy Institute Executive Director Alan Essig said that while there are some positives in the budget, such as the port funding, the overall picture is one that maintains the status quo in the state and does not do much to boost Georgia’s economy.
“The positive is it’s not as bad as it was two or three years ago, but it’s not nearly where we need to be,” Essig said. “How are we going to make the investments that are needed to really prosper? This budget doesn’t do that. There are very small advances, but it’s along the margins and doesn’t deal with the fundamental issues of the state.”