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Deal sets Georgia's 'course to prosperity'
Education and transportation are the main focus for 2012
Gov. Nathan Deal, center, delivers his annual State of the State address as Speaker David Ralston, left, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle listen. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The Deal agenda

Here's a look at some of the governor's key initiatives for the coming year.

  • His budget proposal includes a $10 million allocation for the creation of new "accountability courts," which seek to rehabilitate drug and alcohol offenders. The governor also wants to convert three pre-release centers into residential substance abuse treatment centers. The conversion will cost $5.7 million, Deal said.
  • In the name of youth justice, Deal is allocating money for a new Youth Detention Center in the state.
    Deal is also seeking to spend about $1.4 million more to add more parole officers in the state and $35.2 million to fund more prison beds for violent offenders.
  • The governor is promising college students that HOPE benefits will stay the same next year.
  • Deal wants to continue funding a needs-based loan program for college students.
  • Deal's budget includes additional $55.8 million to fund salary increases for teachers based on training and experience.
  • Deal's budget also includes $146.6 million to fund enrollment growth in K-12 schools and another $111.3 million to fund anticipated enrollment growth in Georgia colleges.
  • His budget includes an additional $3.7 million for school nurse programs.
  • Deal wants to change the state funding formula for local schools, giving local school districts "complete flexibility" in deciding how to spend the funds.
  • Deal wants to add 10 days to the pre-K school year, which also means restoring some of pre-K teachers' salaries.
  • The governor's budget proposal includes $1.6 million for a program that mentors children learn to read at grade level by the end of third grade.

ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday conjured the ghosts of explorers Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan to set course of a plan for lawmakers to lead the state out of an economic recession.

"We know these men today, because they held steadfast to their course, leading them to discover new worlds and to expand the opportunities for mankind," Deal told legislators in the annual State of the State address from the House of Representatives chamber.

Now that tax revenues in the state have begun to stabilize, Deal's direction for lawmakers is focused, he said, on expanding opportunities for Georgians.

It includes new funds for the state's education system, lower taxes for the state's businesses and flexibility for the state's correctional system.

The governor issued the second State of the State address of his term, revealing a number of objectives for the coming legislative session with an air of optimism that years of stagnant job growth in Georgia will soon be in the past.

Deal's remarks to the General Assembly furthered a theme coming from his office the last few weeks, one that indicates economic development as the government's top priority.

Earlier in the day, Deal told Georgia business leaders of a desire to restructure Georgia's job tax credit programs and eliminate other taxes on businesses to encourage job growth for small businesses.

Aside from a much talked about proposal to eliminate a sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, Deal also wants lawmakers to exempt sales taxes on construction materials used in projects "of regional significance."

But Deal's plan for economic growth in Georgia also includes a number of education initiatives. In his address to lawmakers, Deal said the two subjects were inextricably linked.

He announced the creation of a new program called Go Build Georgia in which public institutions can partner with private businesses to train skilled laborers.

"Our schools are the front line in our effort to create prosperity," Deal said. "It is here we make our most strategic investment in the future."

Deal's budget proposal, the entirety of which will be made public today, includes a number of mandates for spending on education in Georgia, including tens of millions of dollars to fund salary increases for Georgia's teachers, he said. Legislators, who will spend much of the session debating the budget, will be required to approve the spending plan before it goes back to Deal for his signature.

He wants lawmakers to add $113 million to higher education funding to account for enrollment growth in Georgia's technical colleges and universities.

His budget also includes an additional $146.6 million for enrollment growth in the state's elementary, middle and high schools.

Deal's focus on education as an economic engine also emphasizes training health care professionals in the state.

Particularly, the governor wants Georgia to have "a world-class" public medical university and to become a destination for cancer research.

He says he will make an initial investment of $5 million on the cancer initiative this year, and fund 400 new residency slots in hospitals across the state.

The governor said Georgia's lack of capacity in residency programs currently results in trained medical professionals leaving the state.

"That doesn't provide value for Georgians paying taxes," he said. "It doesn't make sense for Georgians needing care, and it isn't fair to young Georgians looking to begin medical careers."

Furthering the theme of economic development, Deal said state officials would have to continue to provide solutions for Georgia's lacking transportation infrastructure, even as they wait for a decision from voters on a regional sales tax that would pay for local projects. The regional sales tax, or T-SPLOST, will be voted on in July.

The governor said he plans to work with the state's Department of Transportation to reduce congestion in metro Atlanta, namely on Ga. 400, where the governor said he wants to both add a southbound lane and create "flex shoulders" in key areas.

Deal said transportation infrastructure was "a key building block" of job creation. He restated his support of a project to expand the Savannah harbor, noting his budget for next year includes $46.7 million in bonds to continue deepening the harbor.

"We need a bigger, smarter transportation network to move people and products in the most efficient way possible," he said.

Even his comments on the slowly stabilizing state budget revolved around the theme Tuesday.

"When a business considers locating in Georgia, it helps to be able to show them that they will be partnering with a state government that has its house in order," Deal said.

Though Deal touted an 18-month uptick in state tax revenues and announced additional spending, he urged lawmakers to cautiously plan their spending for the coming year, especially as state leaders look at tax exemptions and broach other tax reform initiatives.

Deal, on Tuesday, asked lawmakers to use a "zero-based" budgeting principle for 10 percent of state programs, though he didn't specify which agencies would face the building-block budgetary procedure. And he applauded the Board of Regents for seeking to consolidate state colleges to save money.

And while he bragged on lawmakers' ability to stabilize the state's critical spending plan in 2011, he urged lawmakers to follow his direction for this year.

He promised lawmakers that if they did, "hardworking, self-reliant Georgians will propel our state into a prosperous future."

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