ATLANTA — The House and Senate returned to the state Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 21, for the second week of the 2020 legislative session, which is commonly referred to as “budget week.”

This week, we began the state budget process, which is one of the most important responsibilities we have during the legislative session as we are constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year.

Gov. Brian Kemp presented his recommendations and priorities for the amended budget and upcoming 2021 fiscal year budget, which is set at $28.1 billion in total funding. The state Constitution requires the governor to set the amount to be budgeted and the General Assembly to then budget that amount.

We started budget week on Tuesday by hearing from Gov. Kemp, who presented his comprehensive budget proposals for the amended fiscal year 2020 budget, which adjusts the current fiscal year’s budget to account for changes, and the fiscal year 2021 budget, which is the budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1 and ends June 30 of the next calendar year.

During his remarks at the joint budget hearings, the governor noted that several agencies have reported ways to cut spending by reducing administrative and overhead costs, leveraging technology and reorganizing behind-the-scenes operational systems. The governor also reflected on our state’s economy, and he commended us for creating a rock-solid foundation for businesses and families to thrive in Georgia.

In order to create a modern, work-ready labor force, we must build a solid educational foundation. Therefore, the governor’s budget recommendations include investing in Georgia’s teachers through a $2,000 permanent base salary increase in the AFY 2020 budget to retain and attract the best educators for our schools. In the FY 2021 budget, he recommends adding $81 million to the University and Technical College systems to fully fund enrollment growth, as well as alleviate the need for student tuition increases.

Gov. Kemp also includes an appropriation of nearly $56 million in additional lottery funds for the HOPE scholarship and grant programs to assist students with college expenses.

Investing in our state’s infrastructure system is a crucial component of attracting new businesses and spurring future economic growth across our state. To ensure businesses can quickly and reliably move goods through the state, Gov. Kemp proposes $51 million in FY 2021 to the Georgia Department of Transportation for roadway improvement and development, $50 million in obligation bonds to repair and replace bridges and $1.8 million for motor carrier officers to maintain safety on Georgia highways and protect our ports corridor along the coast.

Georgia has been the top state to do business for seven straight years and investing in our state’s transportation systems will keep Georgia a business-friendly state.

Gov. Kemp’s budget proposals also reflect his ongoing commitment to protecting the safety of Georgia’s citizens and communities. More than 700,000 gang members have been identified in our state, and these gangs are responsible for increased drug activity, human trafficking and violence. Gov. Kemp seeks to combat this crisis by including a total of nearly $2 million in the AFY 2020 and FY 2021 budgets for seven new positions within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Gang Task Force, as well as resources to implement the statewide gang database. These new positions and the gang database will serve as a great resource for our law enforcement to better track, stop and dismantle gangs across the state.

The governor’s FY 2021 budget also allocates nearly $90 million to continue our efforts to increase access to affordable, quality health care for Georgians. This funding would support enrollment costs and expense growth for our Medicaid programs, specifically for the aging, blind and disabled populations. are outcomes for all of Georgia’s citizens, especially some of our most vulnerable populations.

After hearing the governor’s comprehensive proposals, we also had the opportunity to hear from several state agencies and departments regarding their respective budgetary needs, as well as the state fiscal economist who shared the state’s economic forecast for the current and upcoming fiscal years.

It is important to hear directly from our state agencies and departments during this process in order to adequately determine spending for each state agency, and we will continue to work together as we prepare the final versions of the AFY 2020 and FY 2021 budget bills.

The House Appropriations subcommittees will hold hearings to review these proposals and delve even further into the governor’s recommendations. These subcommittees will eventually pass portions of the state budget in their respective subcommittees, and those portions of the budget will then go before the full House Appropriations Committee, which will review and pass balanced budgets for AFY 2020 and FY 2021. Once passed, the House will transmit each bill to our counterparts in the Senate, where they will review and pass both budget bills.

My colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome on Monday for Day 5 of the legislative session. The budget will continue to be a major topic of discussion in the coming weeks, and our days will get busier as we consider legislation that will best serve you and your family.

I encourage you to contact me with your input and thoughts on proposed legislation that may impact our community. Please visit my Capitol office, which is located at 501-C, CLOB, anytime. You can also reach me by phone at my Capitol office at 404-656-0177 or by email at tom.kirby@house.ga.gov.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.