House passes ’17 state budget; lawmaker lashes out against Board of Regents

[private]The Georgia House voted 167-1 Friday to approve the $23.7 billion state budget for fiscal 2017 and send it to the state Senate for consideration.

Lawmakers asked no questions after listening to Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn) explain the budget for nearly an hour, but one House member spoke out against the funding for the Board of Regents and the University System.

“I know it’s something we don’t do, something we’re not supposed to do,” said Rep. David Stover (R-Newnan). “But at the end of the day, the Board of Regents is getting far too much money.”

“They are driving tuition costs up,” Stover said. “I know they say they won’t raise tuition (in the 2015-16 academic year), but they did not say they will not raise fees.”

The University System also took a hit in the budget on a major construction project proposed for the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Gov. Nathan Deal included $4.05 million in the bond package as the first installment payment on $47 million worth of 20-year bonds to pay for the renovation of the Price Gilbert Library and Crosland Tower complex at Georgia Tech.

That bond funding was dropped from the budget by the House Appropriations Committee, where the higher education subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs).

Ehrhart had vowed earlier in the legislative session he would cut the capital funding for Georgia Tech because the institution suspended a fraternity whose members were accused of making racially derogatory remarks about a black female student.

About a week after Ehrhart held a legislative hearing into Georgia Tech’s handling of student discipline cases, the institute’s officials said they were withdrawing their request for project funding.

The budget, as a whole, is nearly $2 billion larger than the budget initially adopted last year by the General Assembly. The bulk of the new money resulted from the increase in the motor fuel tax that was enacted last year, providing funding for a host of highway construction projects.

The budget also includes money for 3 percent pay raises for state employees and public school teachers, along with a one-time 3 percent bump in benefits for retired state employees.

“We have a turnover rate of 18.4 percent among state employees,” England said. “It’s time to make an adjustment to retain that talent.”

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: David Stover , Earl Ehrhart , georgia tech , state budget , Terry England , University System