Political Notes – Budget won’t be hanging over the session’s final day

[private]Legislators took care of the one constitutional obligation they have – passing a state budget – on Tuesday, which means that the spending plan won’t be an issue hanging over their heads on the final day of the session.

The House voted 171-1 and the Senate followed with a 53-1 vote to accept the conference committee report on the $23.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2017 and send it to Gov. Nathan Deal for his consideration.

The negative vote in the House came from Rep. David Stover (R-Newnan) while the lone dissenter in the Senate was another Newnan Republican, Sen. Mike Crane.

For the first time since the Great Recession hit in 2008, there’s money in the budget for pay increases for all public workers: 3 percent for state employees and teachers, 6 percent for law enforcement agencies, and 9 percent for public health nurses.

The budget includes $300 million that will go to local school districts with the intention of ending teacher furloughs and restoring classroom instruction days that were cut during the economic slowdown.

School districts will still get $166 million less than they would if the QBE formula were fully funded, but that’s still one of the smallest funding shortfalls in years – these “austerity cuts” at one amounted to more than $1 billion a year.

The budget also includes $825 million in new money for transportation projects, with the additional revenue generated by last year’s increase in the motor fuel excise tax.

Money for Invest Georgia

Legislative budget writers also included $10 million in the Board of Regents budget as an allocation to Invest Georgia, the venture capital program that makes state funds available to startup businesses.

Invest Georgia, a project long supported by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, received its first $10 million in state funds in 2015.

Knox Massey, the executive director of Invest Georgia, noted that the budget has not been signed yet by Gov. Nathan Deal.

But if the money stays in, “the demand out in the market is probably three to four times the amount of capital we have,” Massey said.

Palmetto Pipeline moratorium finalized

The House gave their final vote Tuesday night for legislation (HB 1036) that will put a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for the Palmetto Pipeline project until June 30, 2017.

House members voted 116-48 to agree to Senate changes in the bill, which amounted to final passage of the measure.

Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta) objected to Senate amendments to the measure, which he contended made it an “anti-business bill,” but Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) was able to get majority support for HB 1036.

Protecting insurance agents

Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville) is retiring from the Legislature but he was still able to get one of his last bills adopted.

The Senate voted 52-0 Tuesday night to pass HB 193, which protects life insurance agents from being penalized or fired by an insurer if the agent advises policyholders that life settlements and other alternatives are available to them if their policies are about to lapse.

The House had already approved the bill, so it goes to the governor’s desk.

Other agreements

The House of Representatives also agreed Tuesday to Senate versions of these bills:

HB 649, which will require lactation consultants to be licensed by the state.
HB 804, which adds a fifth Superior Court judge in Clayton County.
HB 779, which regulates the operation of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles.
HB 370, which exempts local elected officials from fines for not filing disclosure reports with the state ethics commission.
HB 1028, which will require landfill owners to notify their local government of landfill leaks.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Bill Hitchens , Carl Rogers , Invest Georgia , Knox Massey , life insurance agents , Palmetto Pipeline , state budget