ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal laid out his vision for 2014, along with his budget priorities, Thursday morning in his State of the State address.
Among Deal’s priorities are public safety, education, health care and boating safety laws, including changing the blood alcohol laws for boating. Members of the Hall County Legislative Delegation said they agreed with his vision of the future of Georgia.
Early in his speech, Deal addressed boating safety with two laws named after children who died on Lake Lanier this past summer.
The Jake and Griffin Prince Law would change boating under the influence laws to more closely mirror driving laws. It would lower the BUI blood alcohol limit to 0.08 from 0.10, and penalties would be similar to DUI consequences. The pontoon the boys were on was hit by a boater who has been charged with being under the influence of alcohol.
“If you are too drunk to drive an automobile, you are too drunk to drive a boat,” Deal said.
Deal also proposed The Kile Glover Boat Education Law. It would require boat safety education and make wearing life jackets mandatory for children who are 13 years old or younger. It would also place restrictions on what kind of boats and other vessels children and teens could operate.
Most state agencies have been targeted for budget cuts for the amended 2013 budget and the 2014 budget, but K-12th-grade education was spared and received an additional $156 million in 2013 because of the growth in enrollment. It is slated to receive $147 million in fiscal year 2014. Deal also continued the funding for a reading mentors’ program.
“I thought it was on point with regard to the major issues facing the state in the upcoming year,” Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said. “He hit economic development, he hit quality of life issues, he hit education hard with the pre-kindergarden (funding). He knocked it out of the park.”
Deal said in his speech that in his budget for fiscal year 2014, he was adding back 10 days of pre-K, which fell victim to the economic downturn. He also will give teacher raises.
“Pre-K is so important to our total education because it sets the stage for the rest of their life and we cannot ignore that,” Miller said.
The budget is tight, with little money for programs that could use the additional funding, but Deal did carve out areas to give more of a cushion, including increasing the HOPE scholarship funds in 2014 to nearly $600 million. He also allowed $2 million in 2014 to increase the number of health providers practicing in the state and allocated an additional $50 million to the budget to deepen the Port of Savannah’s harbor, bringing the state contribution to the economic development project to $231 million.
Sen. Steve Henson, leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said the governor cannot continue to blame all of the state’s budget problems on the recession. The state’s budget problems stem from poor decision-making and wrongly placed priorities, Henson said in a news release.
“The current administration has continued its budget cuts to crucial programs, which undermine the path to full recovery and increase the hardship of Georgia families,” Henson said in a statement. “That is why, moving forward, Georgia’s leaders must move away from the bone-deep budget cuts of recent years and instead pursue a more balanced approach to our state finances.”
The Hall County delegation escorted the governor into the House chamber at the Capitol before his speech.
“It was an honor to escort the governor in and represent Hall County,” said Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville.
Deal called for the General Assembly to approve legislation that would authorize the Board of Community Health to assess a hospital provider fee to make up a nearly $700 million shortfall in Medicaid funding.
The Senate passed the amended bill Thursday afternoon, and the House will consider it next.The governor said his top goal is to make Georgia the No. 1 place in the country to do business.
“There were very common-sense solutions and I think there are tangible goals for the state,” said Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville. “Once again, he’s going to move Georgia forward for another year.”
Deal called for Georgia to move forward with confidence, not being divided by race, geography and ideology. He addressed ethics, saying local and elected leaders need to operate by a clear standard so citizens of Georgia trust their government. However, he also warned the General Assembly members that there are members of the media who “thrive on sowing the seeds of doubt and distrust and who will never recant their sinister innuendos and malicious accusations even when they are vanquished by truth.”