December 11, 2012

State Budget

Gov. Nathan Deal says he'll find money for pre-K, the Port of Savannah and highway projects in Atlanta, but not health coverage for the poor.

For those who have bemoaning state budget cuts in recent years—especially to K-12 and higher education—Gov. Nathan Deal does not agree.

In his keynote speech today at the University of the Georgia Biennial Institute for incoming lawmakers, Deal bragged that state spending has declined 4 percent total and 17 per capita since 2000, and the state employs 6.673 fewer people than 12 years ago. "So, we are indeed doing more with less, and I think that's the mantra people want us to follow." he said.

Deal didn't go into much detail about the proposed budget he'll introduce next month, but numerous state officials at the three-day conference said they don't expect their agencies' cuts to ever be restored. "I must tell you, it is a rather daunting budget next year," Deal said. "We have some real challenges."

He did discuss a few initiatives: He intends to restore the last of the 20 pre-K days the state cut out of the budget two years ago. To improve Georgia's low-ranking education system, he also advocated flexibility for local school districts and using pilot programs set up using a federal Race to the Top grants to find a model that works statewide.

In the future, funding for colleges and universities will be reformed to hinge on graduation rates, not enrollment, to discourage dropouts, Deal said. "I believe the ultimate goal of education is to get a job," he said.

In the wake of T-SPLOST's failure, the transportation focus will be on metro Atlanta. Deal said he plans to add two reversible "managed lanes"—not the much-maligned HOT lanes—to interstates 85, 75 and 575, and rebuild the interchange at 285 and 400. He hinted of an announcement coming about a new employer locating on the 400 corridor.

Deal said he'll also propose another $50 million toward deepening the Port of Savannah, along bigger ships to navigate it, and he said he expects to receive federal funding to move forward next year. The project is considered essential for industries like Caterpillar that ship goods from Savannah.

Deal also reiterated that he won't accept federal money to expand Medicaid, potentially insuring 650,000 low- and middle-income Georgians, even though the feds will pay for it all for three years and 90 percent after that. The expansion would cost the state $4.5 billion over 10 years when it's already facing a $700 million Medicaid shortfall, he said. "That is a huge number," he said. "I have no idea where anybody would find that much additional revenue at the state level."