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Georgia Senate passes its take on midyear budget cuts
Georgia's state Capitol in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press
ATLANTA — The Georgia Senate on Wednesday passed its version of midyear budget cuts in a nearly unanimous vote, approving a plan to cut $159 million in state spending for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Compared to earlier proposals from Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and the state House, the Senate budget adds money for county health departments and for more state troopers, while grabbing money from other areas. It also funds an expansion project at Macon’s airport meant to spur economic development in the region.

The spending plan was passed by a vote of 52-1 on Wednesday. The Senate and House will next have to come to an agreement on the proposals, before it goes to the governor’s desk.

Spending cuts followed a slowdown in state revenue that began after lawmakers cut Georgia’s top income tax rate. Kemp ordered more than $200 million in midyear reductions, but the total cut will be smaller because the first-term Republican did not order cuts to most education and Medicaid spending, and those programs continue to grow with Georgia’s population.

“This is a budget with few real adds, frankly,” said Republican Sen. Jack Hill, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “But what we tried to do was look at services reductions and where we could restore services that directly affect children, the elderly, the disabled and essential public safety and judicial responsibilities.”

The Senate proposal restores $3.8 million in cuts to county health departments, leaving them unscathed after the House had already reduced the $6.4 million Kemp originally wanted cut. It also put $2.4 million back for more state troopers, money the House cut after state officials fired a group of troopers for cheating on a test. Then there’s $1.5 million for what Hill previously described as a runway extension at Macon’s Middle Georgia Regional Airport, a project he said will help attract industry and is “shovel ready.”

The Senate budget also adds funding for the state’s new business court, foster children services and public health programs.Senate budget writers found the money for restorations by making a series of cuts to the justice system, as well as cutting more than $2 million from scholarships administered by the Georgia Student Finance Commission, instructing the commission to instead use existing reserves. The Senate also pulled $3.2 million from an adjustment to the state’s K-12 funding formula.

Almost all Democrats in the chamber voted in favor of the bill, though Sen. Majority Leader Steve Henson told his Republican colleagues he had concerns about cuts that will leave vacant positions at state agencies unfilled as the state continues to grow.

“We appreciate the work that was done. We have concerns about some of the rollbacks that are in there for positions and we will be talking to you further to see what can be addressed” in the next fiscal year’s budget, Henson said.

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