Teacher pay raises included in ’03 budget

Georgia’s school teachers and college professors are in line for a 3.5 percent salary increase and state employees will get a 2.5 percent bump in the $16.2 billion state budget Gov. Roy Barnes is proposing for fiscal year 2003.

Barnes’ spending plan carries forward the departmental cutbacks ordered in the fiscal 2002 budget, but still includes an extra $353 million for continued property tax relief for the state’s homeowners and new spending on education programs in addition to the $274 million set aside for the pay raises.

“We need to tighten our belts but protect the services that our citizens depend on,” Barnes told a joint session of the House and Senate. “We need to cut taxes to put more money in the hands of Georgians – not raise taxes, as some states are actually considering in order to make ends meet during these trying times.”

“The framework of the budget he’s laid out is a very good start and I think the Senate will be supportive of his plan,” Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor said.

The governor’s proposal was immediately attacked by Republican leaders who said it didn’t do nearly enough in the area of tax relief.

“We have been hit as hard as any state in America during this recession with a loss of 100,000 jobs,” state GOP Chairman Ralph Reed said. “We should have a much larger tax cut and it should be accelerated . . . he’s proposing massive borrowing expenditures for bonds, and the way to get this economy going is broader and deeper tax cuts.”

“The recession in Georgia can be laid at the feet of the Democrats who spent more than 90 percent of the $2.5 billion surplus revenue in the last three years,” said Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson (R-Savannah).

“They spent it adding new programs, hiring new bureaucrats and creating new agencies,” Johnson added. “It sucked the capital out of the private sector and reduced our families’ budgets.”

Barnes called the Republican criticism “the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever seen” and added, “I’m going to give them a calculator. There needs to be a remedial math program for Ralph and the Republican leadership. We’d have to cut teacher pay 30 percent to fund what they’re proposing (in tax cuts).”

“There are not cash revenues lying around to cut taxes with,” Taylor said. “You’d have to include deep cuts in services to pay for the tax cuts. Let’s be specific about what you would cut (in services).”

The governor’s proposed budget adds money in the following areas:

  • $235 million to cover the growth of the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income residents. This is on top of an additional $429 million in the supplemental budget for fiscal 2002.
  • An additional $20.4 million to expand the PeachCare health insurance program for children, on top of $21.6 million in the supplemental budget.
  • The 3.5 percent pay raise for teachers that will keep Georgia at the national average for salaries and the leader in the Southeast. “If you agree with my recommendations, we will have raised the teacher salary schedule, or the portion funded by the state, by over 50 percent in nine years,” Barnes told lawmakers.
  • $4.6 million to develop end-of-course tests for high schoolers that will eventually replace the Georgia High School Graduation Tests.
  • $1.8 million to fund a 10 percent salary supplement for teachers who are National Board Certified.
  • $1.6 million to expand the Georgia Early Learning Initiative program that promotes more learning for pre-schoolers.
  • $27 million for the University System to pay the continuing expenses of the semester conversion program. Barnes said this will probably be the last time these extra funds are needed.
  • $2.8 million in funds and $7 million in bond proceeds for the Yamacraw Mission, a program that attracts high-tech industry to the state. In the three years of the program’s existence, Yamacraw’s efforts have resulted in the creation of 1,100 new jobs with 3,100 more projected to come on-line, Barnes said.
  • $65.4 million in tobacco settlement funds for the OneGeorgia Authority to distribute as economic development grants to rural cities and counties. “The last round of grants preserved or created jobs in Thomaston, Appling County and Jesup,” Barnes said. “And just last Friday, I went to Hancock County to announce 200 new jobs created because of a OneGeorgia grant.”
  • $2.4 million to beef up the homeland security programs administered by the state’s public safety agencies.
  • $4.1 million to add 68 new positions to drivers’ license stations in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties and $3.2 million to fund a program that will allow some drivers to renew their licenses over the telephone or the internet.

    The supplemental budget for 2002, which Barnes unveiled last week, includes the issuance of $1.3 million in bonds for state construction projects that the governor said will act as a stimulus to the economy. The 2003 budget includes no additional bond funding – “we’ve got to go ahead and get those bonds sold to take advantage of the low interest rates,” Barnes said.

    Taylor said he would work for Senate approval of the bond package, but did not want to add to the $1.3 billion already proposed.

    The lieutenant governor said he will also ask senators for a significant reduction in local assistance grants to cities and counties, a prime source of pork-barrel funding. The current budget includes about $23 million in those local grants and “I would like to see those reduced by 50 percent, which would be about $10 million to $12 million,” Taylor said.

    Barnes noted that his continuing efforts to upgrade the state’s schools were modeled after George W. Bush’s education initiatives in Texas and in the new national education bill signed into law last week.

    “In fact, a lot of the same things we’re doing here were already done in Texas, and will now be done at the national level,” Barnes said.

    “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the people of Georgia can tell the difference between an imitation and the real McCoy, and Barnes is a pale imitation,” Reed said.

    © 2002 by Capitolimpact.com.
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