If Georgia's budget were $1, health care and education would get quarters. Most other things would get pennies.

By Maggie Lee

The figures in Georgia’s budget this year are big — about $48.6 billion in state and federal money in a 259-page document.  But a couple of charts will make it easy to understand.

First, the revenue in Georgia’s budget, counting state and federal money, is bigger than football, but smaller than Home Depot:

 

Most recent year’s revenues for five things:

Chart showing Georgia's revenue of about 48 billion versus Home Depot, about 108 b, the NFL, about 15 b. Footnotes: Home Depot, Delta Air Lines and The Coca-Cola Company’s figures are from each company’s 2019 10-k, which cover 2018. The NFL data is an estimate from Bloomberg covering the 2018 season. Georgia’s year runs from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020.

Georgia’s government is divided into dozens of departments and agencies.  Each one ends up with an “appropriation,” its headline budget figure.

But if you add up all those headline budget figures, you get something like $53 billion.  Georgia’s not spending more money than it has.  A lot of departments pay other departments, mostly for health insurance.  More on that below.

But to get an idea how much money goes through the books of each of Georgia’s departments, think of the budget as $1. If Georgia’s budget were $1, the only single department that would get more than a quarter is the Department of Community Health.  Its books include the state’s employee insurance plan plus Medicaid — publicly subsidized insurance for low-income folks.

Indeed, Georgia lawmakers don’t have a lot of power to shift around a lot of spending in the scheme of things: the state has certain bills coming in that it knows it has to pay. Big things like Medicaid, teacher pensions and staff salaries and small things like state patrol vehicles and election administration. It’s similar to companies — for example, Delta knows it has certain ongoing bills to pay, like landing fees at airports. Some of its revenue will have to pay for certain bills that are ongoing. Georgia, too, has to pay for such fixed costs.

And some of Georgia’s revenue already has other strings attached. When the federal government sends a check, they generally say it can only be spent on a particular thing, like housing for low-income people, or, the big one, Medicaid.

 

If Georgia’s FY 2020 spending were a dollar…

Chart showing Georgia's spending by department

These budgets, however, are actually in the billions. Some of it ultimately comes directly from Georgians, mostly the form of income taxes, corporate taxes and sales taxes.

At the state Capitol, lawmakers and reporters think mostly in terms of the state part, the roughly $27.5 billion in state money that lawmakers in Atlanta can control. That’s why headlines talk about that sum.

But there is more money: the money that comes indirectly, in the form of money from the federal government.

Of course, that’s ultimately from the taxpayer too.

Some agencies have their own revenue — tuition checks are why the university system shows a lot of “agency” funds, for example.

Add in lottery money plus a few other minor things and that’s where the money comes from.

But if you had a calculator, you’d see all these sums for all the departments comes to about $53 billion.

Georgia is not spending more than its revenue. It’s just that a big part of what’s classified as spending is money that’s “intra-state government transfers.” That’s where one agency pays another, and it’s mostly health insurance payments.  DCH has a lot of “intra-state” funds.

Georgia’s spending by department and revenue source, FY 2020

Chart showing Georgia's spending by department

Chart showing Georgia's spending by department

 

 

Documents:
Georgia’s FY2020 appropriations bill, HB 31.

Delta’s 2019 10-k

Coca-Cola’s 2019 10-k

Home Depot’s 2019 10-k

NFL revenue estimate via Bloomberg

Data for all charts at Github

Code for all charts at Observable

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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