Senate approves budget, but will House agree?

[private]The Georgia Senate voted 53-2 Thursday to approve the $23.7 billion state budget for fiscal year 2017, possibly setting the stage for a quick agreement with the House of Representatives.

“In the end, we don’t think there’s a substantial difference between the two budgets,” said Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

If the two chambers can agree on the final version of the budget without going to a conference committee – as they also avoided doing on the supplemental budget – then the Legislature will be on track for its planned adjournment date of March 24.

The budget provides funding for a 3 percent pay raise for teachers and state employees, and has money for an even bigger 10 percent pay raise for public health nurses.

“We’ve had tremendous turnover in recent years with nurses that work in public health departments,” Hill explained.

The Senate put $10 million in the budget to provide funding for the Invest Georgia capital fund for investment in selected startup companies. The capital investment fund is a pet project of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Although Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson (D-Tucker) voted for the budget, he added, “We’re not nearly where we need to be in making sure every Georgia student has the kind of education we would want.”

Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) urged Republicans to agree to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage, something the state has refused to do.

“Medicaid expansion is beyond being a moral issue, it is an economic development issue,” Fort said. “It will help your rural hospitals, many of which are on the cusp of closing, even as we speak.”

The only senators voting against the budget were Republicans Mike Crane and Marty Harbin.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Jack Hill , state budget , Steve Henson , Vincent Fort