The 2016 State of the State Address

Gov. Nathan Deal delivered the annual State of the State address and introduced his 2017 budget recommendations last week. Here are some of the recommendations and comments:

More support for high-demand skills training: “…over the past three years, we have identified 11 areas where a student will receive a 100 percent tuition HOPE Grant to obtain that training. These Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grants cover 140 programs, and I am recommending that we add industrial maintenance this year to that important list.”

Additional funding for Dual Enrollment: “Our Move On When Ready legislation from last year, coupled with additional funding for Dual Enrollment, has greatly accelerated the pace of many students’ educational journeys. This allows high school students to attend postsecondary institutions at no cost to them or their parents.”

Support for Computer Science and Programming: “In order to further modernize our K-12 education system, I asked the State Board of Education and the University System of Georgia to allow certain high school computer science courses to count as core courses in high school and for purposes of college admission.  Both entities have agreed, and there are currently nine computer science courses that count towards a science or foreign language requirement. This will give us more early learners in a field that is and will continue to be in high demand by employers.”

Positive Results from Criminal Justice Reform: “As a result of your passing legislation to implement the recommendations of the Council in prior years, we have seen a substantial drop in our prison population as thousands of non-violent offenders are being diverted into accountability courts where they are given a second chance to receive treatments for their addictions. By converting inmates into taxpayers, and by educating and giving paroled inmates marketable skills, we will begin to reduce our rates of recidivism, which will in turn make our state safer. The same diversion is occurring in the juvenile justice system. In short, Georgia is recognized as the leading state for meaningful criminal justice reform.”

Education Funding and the Education Reform Commission: The Governor announced the reform of the QBE funding model will be delayed until 2017. In the meantime, the 2017 budget increases education funding, bringing the total three-year increase in funding to more than $1.5 billion, or nearly $900 million after accounting for changes in student population and teacher salaries.

Mandated expenditures increasing: “…our mandatory entitlement spending continues to grow through no fault of our own. Although we have seen our revenue grow, we have also seen mandated expenditures grow in the areas of health care and education, taking up ever larger segments of our overall annual budgets. In fact, the discretionary portion of the budget, which is now roughly 17 percent, continues to shrink.” The Medicaid program alone “has grown from $2.6 billion in FY2013 to $3.1 billion in FY2017, an increase of 15.7 percent.”

FY 2017 budget highlights:

The budget allocates $23.7 billion of state spending and $47.5 billion of total spending.

The budget estimates the state will collect an additional $1 billion in revenue in addition to $826 million in new revenues from the passage of the Transportation Funding Act of 2015.

The Rainy Day Fund stands at $1.4 billion and Georgia remains one of only nine states with AAA bond ratings from all three major credit-rating agencies.

The breakdown of the budget by policy area in the table below shows that just five policy areas account for 95 percent of state spending.

FY 2017 Budget By Policy Area
Education $12,611,866,931 53%
Health Care $5,148,145,362 22%
Public Safety $1,924,870,977 8%
Transportation $1,714,541,590 7%
Debt Service $1,209,918,231 5%
Other $1,130,065,987 5%

Finally, in the Governor’s introduction to the 2017 budget, he included these remarks on public safety:

“The safety of Georgians is paramount. Without a true sense of security, little else matters. For this reason, we must continue to support our criminal justice reforms and other measures that will enhance safety.

“The state’s adult and juvenile justice reforms have focused on utilizing proven, community-based alternatives to sentencing. These options offer non-violent offenders a viable second chance at a productive life, while saving taxpayer dollars and reserving prison beds for hardened and career criminals Already, jail backlog has dropped several thousand to only a few hundred, and the secure population at Juvenile Justice facilities has dipped roughly 25 percent since implementation of reforms. I’m recommending $63 million in bonds to account for the hardening of our prisons, which reflects the purpose of these facilities.

“This year we continue the push for community-based solutions by proposing the addition of new accountability courts while also increasing existing capacity. These courts include drug, veterans, mental health, family and DUI courts, and they offer evidence-based programs that rehabilitate offenders and reduce the percentage that wind up back in the system. These courts are changing lives. My budget would also increase the grant providing incentives to use appropriate community alternatives on the juvenile side. Between accountability courts and the juvenile incentive grant, I am recommending an additional $3.8 million in funding for FY 2017.

“A level playing field arising from a quality education and job opportunities can lead to renewed hope and a more productive life. In calendar year 2015, the Department of Corrections recorded over 20 charter high school graduates. Following the success at Lee Arrrendale State Prison, the current charter school operations at Burruss began in August by serving young males with strong potential to earn their diploma, and we hope to see an even greater number of graduates going forward. Prior to these efforts, no one who was incarcerated could earn their high school diploma while in prison. [Emphasis added.] In addition, the inmate welding program at Walker State Prison has seen a significant number of completions; this program increases the employability of offenders upon release. This cycle, I am recommending additional funding to continue supporting the re-entry of released offenders back into society. The funded education and vocational initiatives include everything from additional academic and training assistance at four state prisons to continued support for charter high schools in prisons to the expansion of GED Fast Track to all transition centers. All told, these changes would account for an additional $4.3 million in fiscal year 2017. My budget recomendations would also expand the GED Fast Track to county prisons, where a need exists. For this purpose, funding in FY 2017 would go toward providing an incentive for county correctional facilities to help graduate inmates from GED and vocational programs.”

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