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Salary hikes likely to grow state budget
Lawmakers weigh Deals proposed 5.3 percent spending boost
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For conservatives who prefer smaller government, Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year may take some getting used to.

“I’m concerned that we keep having an increase,” said Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville. “It seems like every year.”

The $25 billion budget Deal is offering marks a $1.26 billion increase in total state spending over the 2017 budget approved last spring, an increase of 5.3 percent. And it is a 3.6 percent increase over the amended budget.

As the nonprofit think tank Georgia Budget and Policy Institute reports, most of the new revenue expected this year is consumed by the rising costs of a growing population.

“At the same time, the proposed budget represents a high-water mark for Georgia in absolute dollar terms,” the GBPI reports, though “it only returns per-capita state spending to just below pre-recession levels.”

About 80 percent of the $1.3 billion in new spending maintains the status quo, according to the GBPI, but hundreds of millions of dollars are tied to proposed salary increases for K-12 and university teachers, as well as social workers and law enforcement officers.

Deal proposes the state pick up a larger share of growing health care costs for employees.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, acknowledged the growing spending, but said it’s a responsible increase given that the state is still marching back from the depths of the recession.

“I believe that the 2018 budget, as proposed, is one which addresses many of the needs of this state in the areas of education, health care and protection of our citizens,” Hawkins said.

Dunahoo said he supports a consumption-based taxation policy that lowers income taxes and sheds year-over-year spending increases.

But it’s hard for even him to pull away from the governor’s proposals.

“We have government vehicles that need replaced,” he said. “There are (salary) increases for teachers, state troopers. All are needed.”