House, Senate give final OK to budget

[private]The $25 billion state budget for fiscal year 2018 overwhelmingly won final approval from the legislature Wednesday and is on its way to Gov. Nathan Deal.

The state Senate voted 52-0 and the House of Representatives followed with a 172-1 vote to pass the compromise budget worked out by House and Senate negotiators. With federal funds included, total state spending will top $49 billion.

There is good news for state employees in the budget, which includes $360 million to provide a 20 percent pay raise for state law enforcement officers and 2 percent salary increases for teachers and state employees.

The budget also includes $223.5 million to shore up the fiscal stability of the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and $3.1 million for the Employees Retirement System (ERS).

The $1.15 billion bond package in the budget includes $105 million for a new judicial building that would be constructed on the site of the now-demolished archives building near the state capitol.

In other actions Wednesday, the state Senate voted 42-9 to pass legislation (HB 238) that provides a property tax break for solar energy farms.

HB 238 would amend the Conservation Use Valuation Assessment (CUVA) law that lowers the tax valuation on farm property when the owner agrees to keep the property in a “good faith” farming use for 10 years.

The bill would carve out an exemption for solar energy facilities built on property that is already covered by a CUVA covenant.

Although most senators saw the bill as a way to spur the development of solar energy, there were some objections.

“This is a degradation of a law that has served the state very well,” Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) said. “This is not an energy bill, this is a get-you-out-of-an-agreement-you-entered-into bill for a few special interests.”

The Senate also voted to agree with House changes to SB 85, which will allow craft brewers and distillers to sell a portion of their product directly to customers.

The Senate vote represents final passage of the bill.

© 2017 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: CUVA , solar farms , state budget