Georgia cut back spending at this time last year, when it was unclear what COVID-19 would do to the economy. So far, the state of Georgia’s revenue is fine, the feds are sending money, but Georgia’s own spending is still tight.
With near-total support on Wednesday night, the Georgia House and Senate approved a $27.3 billion spending plan for the year that will begin July 1.
At this time in 2019, they were approving a $27.5 billion budget.
Some $200 million less may not seem like much, but in a state with a growing population like Georgia, it’s typical for the budget to actually grow with the population — more students need spaces in school, more old or sick folks need health insurance.
Cuts that persist year after year despite population rises are typically called “austerity” cuts.
“I don’t understand why we still have austerity cuts,” said state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, during a budget Q and A on the Senate floor. Democrats generally have accused majority Republicans of being too conservative — keeping some cuts to education while there’s still money in the rainy day fund, for example.
Republicans point out that the deluge of federal money means that cuts the state made last year are more than backfilled by manna from Washington, D.C.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, said he didn’t accept parent’s premise that Georgia is retaining cuts just because federal money is coming in.
“What I would say … is I think that we’ve taken and used federal funds and state funds and put more state funds into the areas we thought were most necessary,” Tillery said.
His counterpart in the House, Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, suggested the state would rebuild its budget smarter. “Everything needs to be scrutinized before blindly backfilling,” England told the House.
The budget itself now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp for his review. But in the big picture, this year’s budget is just about like previous years, most money goes to education and health.