Kemp signs Georgia budget with raises, scholarship boosts

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers his State of the State address on Jan. 25, 2023.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers his State of the State address on Jan. 25, 2023.(WANF)
Published: May. 5, 2023 at 4:08 PM EDT
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(AP) - Raises are coming for state and university employees and public school teachers and Georgia will pay full college tuition for all HOPE Scholarship recipients under the budget signed Friday by Gov. Brian Kemp.

The Republican governor ratified the budget in a ceremony at the construction site for the new Hyundai Motor Group electric vehicle plant in Ellabell.

“There is a lot of good stuff in this budget to talk about,” Kemp said. “It’s important that Georgians know we’re delivering on our promises.”

Kemp also signed a bill continuing tax incentives for economic development projects, wearing a hard hat emblazoned with the state flag and an orange construction vest as heavy equipment moved dirt for the $5.5 billion plant.

The budget calls for spending $32.4 billion in state funds and $55.9 billion overall, including federal and other money, in the year beginning July 1. Although leaders fear state revenue growth will slow, the document reflects Kemp’s willingness to keep spending, knowing Georgia’s government has billions in surplus revenue in the bank.

State troopers and many other law enforcement officers will get a $6,000 raise, while all state employees, public university employees, technical college employees and public school teachers will get a $2,000 raise.

“No other General Assembly or governor has raised teacher salaries by so much, so quickly in state history,” Kemp said, noting the $5,000 yearly raises he delivered to teachers and state employees in his first term.

State-funded public librarians and teachers in state-funded preschool programs will also get $2,000 raises, while K-12 school cafeteria workers, bus drivers and nurses will get 5% salary boosts. The state will pay one-time $1,000 bonuses to school custodians and pick up the tab for schoolchildren now eligible for reduced-priced lunches and breakfasts. In all, Georgia will spend a record $13.1 billion on K-12 schools.

The budget also restores the original system of paying full tuition for HOPE Scholarships for all high school graduates earning a B average. While Zell Miller Scholars who earn higher grades and a minimum standardized test score now get full tuition, others only get 90%. The budget also boosts HOPE Scholarship payments to private college students in Georgia.

Lawmakers cut $66 million in teaching funds from the state’s 26 public universities. That’s a small cut, but University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue said it could exacerbate funding woes tied to falling enrollment at many smaller universities. Kemp said on the last night of the legislative session in March that the budget had what he called “significant holes”

Perdue has said he hopes lawmakers will backfill the cut when they return in January. Legislators routinely amend the budget each year.

Lawmakers also cut about $1.4 million in funding for Georgia Public Broadcasting and about $3.2 million for Augusta University’s Georgia Cyber Center.

Georgia’s budget pays to educate 1.75 million K-12 students and 465,000 college students, house 48,000 prisoners, pave 18,000 miles (29,000 kilometers) of highways and care for more than 200,000 people who are mentally ill, developmentally disabled or addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The plan spends more on mental health and addiction treatment, reflecting lawmakers’ continued emphasis on those issues.

The budget also again gives $500 bonuses to 54,000 retirees in the state Employees Retirement System. People in that plan have not received regular cost-of-living increases.

Lawmakers agreed to pay for home services for 500 more people with intellectual, developmental, or physical disabilities — up from the 250 originally proposed by Kemp. The state has thousands on a waiting list for such services.