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Friday, February 3, 2012 - 11:48am

Amended Budget Has Immigration Items

The state House unanimously approved a supplemental budget Friday for the current fiscal year that ends in June. The $18.5 billion plan is up about 1 percent from the original estimate, owing to rising state tax collections.

State lawmakers pass an amended budget at the beginning of each calendar year to reconcile new revenue and expenses with the spending plan passed the previous year.

The 2012 amended budget includes about $86 million to fund a jump in enrollment at Georgia schools. It also provides about $8 million more to special charter schools.

Rep. Terry England, an Auburn Republican, chairs the House appropriations committee. He says the spending plan makes modest adjustments, and that's the point.

“It’s to do the minor fixes for the remainder of the year," he said after the vote. "It shouldn’t be something that we go into and make huge changes, except for a couple of items.”

Those few items include two related to a controversial immigration law passed last year.

The budget provides $75,000 to fund two Department of Agriculture positions. The new workers will help farmers fill out paperwork for federal foreign guest worker visas, known as H2A visas.

Rep. England says facilitating legal farm labor requires more staff in the wake of the new law cracking down on illegal workers.

“Ag as a whole took quite a hit, in having crops left in the field. A lot of that had nothing to do with illegals being here to help pick and process those crops," he said on the floor of the House. "But I guess it was the fear factor, and farmers not understanding how to go through the H1B and H2A process to bring in legal labor.”

The amended budget also includes about $8,000 to pay for expenses for the Immigration Enforcement Review Board created by the law.

It also includes $102 million in new state tax collections, and reflects about $110 million in cuts to state agencies as part of across-the-board, two percent trims.

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