Georgia State Capitol

Georgia State Capitol

Credit: GPB file photo

The Georgia Senate unanimously approved a fiscal 2023 state budget Friday that provides raises to teachers and state employees and restores state agencies to pre-pandemic spending levels.

The $30.2 billion spending plan, which the Georgia House of Representatives passed two weeks ago, annualizes $5,000 raises most state workers received in the fiscal 2022 mid-year budget Gov. Brian Kemp signed last week.

Georgia teachers would get a $2,000 raise, allowing Kemp to finish fulfilling the $5,000 increase he promised on the campaign trail four years ago. The General Assembly increased teachers’ pay by $3,000 in 2019.

The budget also would repeal the institutional fees the University System of Georgia began charging students during the Great Recession and would increase Medicaid coverage for low-income mothers in Georgia to a full year following the birth of their children, up from the current six months.

The governor and legislature can afford to be generous this year. State tax collections have been on the rise during most of the past year — despite the pandemic — resulting in a budget surplus of more than $4 billion.

“I am so thankful for the [taxpayers’] resilience during the pandemic, keeping Georgia open,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, told his Senate colleagues Friday.

Georgia also has received $4.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds through the American Rescue Plan.

Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler praised the budget for raising salaries and restoring budget cuts imposed on state agencies during the last two years.

But Butler, D-Stone Mountain, said lawmakers could do more for low-income Georgians by expanding Medicaid, creating a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit and boosting funding for education and health care, which she said remain underfunded despite the spending increases in the budget.

“There is a budget surplus that could be used to help those who need it most or shore up agencies that are struggling,” she said.

But Tillery injected a note of caution, citing the most recent report from the state Department of Revenue that showed tax receipts rose just 1% last month compared to February of last year. He said many spending increases Senate budget writers have proposed are for one-time items in order not to overcommit the General Assembly if the economy slows down.

“We tried not to spend every dollar we were sent … so next year we haven’t boxed ourselves in,” Tillery said. “As this sugar high is wearing off, the Senate will not be in a bad position.”

The budget likely will land next in a joint conference committee so House and Senate negotiators can resolve their differences and come up with a final version of the spending plan.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.