Governor Nathan Deal delivered his ‘State of the State’ speech Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. at a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly, providing insight on what is contained in his budget that will be released Wednesday.
Deal highlighted the dramatic improvement in Georgia’s financial position, including restoring the State’s financial reserves, “now with $328 million in Georgia’s ‘rainy day’ fund. I am committed to continuing to build up this strategic reserve,” Deal said, through working to cut the State budget.
“And, we did it without raising taxes,” he added, reminding listeners that Georgia is one of only eight states with a Triple A bond rating, which :saved Georgia over $11 million last year in bond payment rates.” He also committed to implementing zero-based budgeting in 10% of all State programs in the 2012-2013 budget, “bringing a new level of accountability.”
“But, we have other mountains to climb. Our schools are the front line in our effort to create prosperity,” said the Governor.
Deal’s budget fully funds K-12 enrollment growth projections for the year ahead, he said. And, he is proposing increasing funds for public school systems by $111 million to fund this growth. He is also proposing adding $3.7 million for additional school nurses.
His budget includes $55.8 mil for teacher salaries, based on training and experience, he explained, and increases the pre-k school year by 10 days up to 170 days. “This will begin the process of restoring pre-K teacher salaries,” Deal added.
Another goal is to focus on students achieving reading at grade levels by the completion of the 3rd grade. Research indicates that students that are not on track by the 3rd grade are more level to drop out and end up with criminal backgrounds. He is adding $ 1.6 million in new funding for a Reading Mentors program.
To spur innovation, he is committing $8.7 million for State-chartered special schools. “These schools are key to Georgia’s educational success,” he said. “However, this is not the long-term solution.”
He also addressed the quality of higher education in Georgia. “Our post-secondary institutions must maintain a focus on employability,” he said, “abandoning the ‘ivory tower model’, and focusing on business preparedness.”
The Governor announced a new program called ‘Go Build Georgia,’ aimed at educating students and the public at large about the skilled trades, jobs that pay 27% more than the average Georgian currently earns. “We are on track to replace only one of every four retirees in Georgia,” Deal said.
He announced what he termed three ambitious goals regarding medical education in Georgia, as well. First, he said that it was a priority to have the Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta to become among the top 50 nationally. Second, he is seeking to create a second Georgia-based cancer institute in addition to the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. And, his budget also includes money to fund 400 new residency slots to keep new doctors in the state. “We must insure that no doctor trained in Georgia is forced to leave the state to complete their medical education,” Deal said.
The Governor also said that Georgia has fallen behind many othe states in infrastructure strength due to a lack of investment in the State’s transportation system, and called on the public to support the TSPLOST sales tax.
Regarding the high level of the State’s prison population, Deal said his budget reflects the findings of his Criminal Justice Council, created last year. His budget includes $1.4 million for additional parole officers, providing supervision to released offenders; and $35.2 million for additional prison beds, including conversion of three prisons to substance abuse residential centers. The funds will also include a new youth detention center.
There is also $10 million for the creation of new accountability courts, including drug courts, DUI courts and mental health courts, similar to programs in place in Chatham County. And, he called on churches and non-profit organizations to help with the problems of re-entry into the community.
And, he concluded by talking about improving Georgia’s business environment through tax incentives, and strategic business tax reforms, to attract new jobs.