We pass two budgets every year, the amended budget to account for changes during the current fiscal year, and the “big” budget for the next fiscal year.
Because of the governor’s prudent policies, we had a $3.7 billion surplus from last year. Therefore, the amended FY22 budget of $30.3 billion (an 11% increase over last year’s budget) includes nearly $2 billion of new money for salary increases for teachers, state troopers and state employees.
The FY23 “big” budget doubles down on that success with another increase of $636 million for state employees, $120M to retired employees, and $150M to Mental Health care and law enforcement. But it also contains historic tax-cuts. The first is a $1.6 billion income tax cut that will lower the state income tax rate from 6% down to 5%. Another is a one-time tax cut refund worth about $250-$500. I’m particularly pleased with the income tax exemption for military retirees. And to offset the soaring price of gas, we are enacting a tax holiday on fuel through the end of May.
As usual, education was the big winner. We are fully funding education this year at $11.8 billion, and are fully backfilling the losses due to COVID by $382 million. We also add another $291M million to complete the governor’s promise to give teachers a $5,000 pay increase.
Reagan once said that it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit. I feel the same way about the passage of the new income tax exemption for military retirees, something I’ve been working on for many years. I’m also very glad that my “Return to Work” bill for retired teachers finally passed. Both of these measures were initiatives that I started many years ago, but were later taken over by the governor… which is awesome.
There were a lot of bills about education. We passed a “Parents Bill of Rights” that provides transparency between parents and educators, giving parents a clear process for increased participation in their child’s education. The “Student Technology Protection Act” ensures that pornography is not allowed on internet that is provided by schools. The “Protect Students First Act” seeks to ensure that “divisive ideologies” are not taught in schools, while the “Unmask Georgia Students Act” allows parents to opt out of school mask mandates.
Law and order was another focus. We passed many bills to institute greater penalties for fleeing the police, unlawful possession of guns, possession of child pornography, child molestation, and human trafficking. We also passed two “Constitutional Carry” measures.
On a separate note, we finally passed the “Freedom to Farm Act.” We also passed another update on our election laws, something we do nearly every year.
The largest single bill was the speaker’s measure on mental health. Studies everywhere show that COVID restrictions mentally crushed millions of Americans, especially children. HB 1013 ensures that insurers must treat mental health issues. My counselors bill also passed, meaning that 1,700 more counselors will be working in Georgia almost immediately, with another 7,000 on the way.
The other bill that I passed was a military spouse licensure measure that the Secretary of Defense requested. We have passed over 70 military-friendly bills since I first chaired my military affairs committee.
I am, perhaps, most proud of the unanimous passage of the House resolution that I co-authored with Democrat Rep. Mack Jackson. The resolution urges our schools to focus on the principles that MLK taught his generation. The Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, the People Power movement in the Philippines, the Solidarity Movement in Poland, the Singing Revolution in Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the liberation of Bulgaria, the Golianad in Romania, the collapse of the USSR, and most recently — the Orange Revolution in Ukraine: all of these peaceful movements that resulted in freedom occurred because of two things: America’s military policy of “Peace through Strength”, and MLK’s transcendent message of the social justice that can be achieved through the tactics of non-violent, social revolutions.
This session was particularly hard. Though we actually accomplished a great deal, the mood was decidedly grim. Most members that I spoke to — both Democrat and Republican — remarked how toxic politics has become. To that point, about 55 out of 220 members — from both sides of the aisle — decided not to return.
I will, however, be forever humbled by the trust you have shown me to represent you.