In his State of the State address this morning, Gov. Nathan Deal said Georgia was in “excellent” shape and announced his proposal for additional monetary commitment to schools that would total $547 million.
Deal’s speech also highlighted Medicaid spending, an issue the governor has firmly opposed increases on during his time in office.
The speech drew raves from some, including the Georgia Association of Educators and a more tepid response from others, including Fulton County Commissioner John Eaves.
“I applaud Georgia Governor Nathan Deal for laying out an agenda for our state’s future that includes additional investment in public education and in job training. The Governor and I also share an interest in unclogging our criminal justice system by addressing issues of recidivism through rehabilitation,” said Eaves. “However, I remain concerned about the continued lack of assistance in securing the state’s health care safety net by a continued refusal to endorse Medicaid expansion.
“I challenge Governor Deal’s assertion that such an expansion would amount to an ‘intrusion into our rights as a state.’”
Deal has held firm on his stance to keep taxes low and not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, citing that every Georgian already spends $1,000 each year on Peachcare and Medicaid through state and federal taxes.
“We will not allow ourselves to be coerced” into Medicaid expansion, he said.
The Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) submitted a much more flattering reaction to the governor’s speech, particularly the half-billion dollar increase to education funding that the governor called “the largest single year increase in K-12 funding in seven years.”
“We are pleased with the Governor’s budget proposal. It is a step in the right direction for public education. The Governor had an open door policy with GAE and we were able to communicate the need for 180 days of instruction for Georgia’s students,” said Calvine Rollins. GAE’s president.
“The $547 million to local systems addresses the reduction in furloughs and the opportunity for raises. The funding for digital learning, technology, and the expansion of the HOPE scholarship as well as the creation of a scholarship to ensure that technical colleges expand their programs is a great step in moving public education forward. We are very encouraged.”
An augmented education budget was expected by many given growing state revenues and concern that more than 50 percent of schools in Georgia were unable to meet a state minimum of 180 school days due to budget cuts.
State education funding will total nearly $8 billion, allowing schools to restore instructional days, eliminate furloughs and boost teacher pay, Deal said.
Earlier Wednesday, the governor also pledged to add $12 million to the state budget for the purchase and retrofitting of helicopters and other equipment to bring a Life Flight trauma care service to southwest Georgia.
Deal also played up Georgia’s strength as a place to do business, highlighting the state’s recent ranking as the number one place for businesses in the country.
His lone Democratic challenger in the upcoming governor’s race took him to task over his rosy outlook.
“Governor Deal says Georgia today is, ‘at the pinnacle.’ He is bursting with pride that a single magazine rated Georgia the best place to do business.” Carter said. “You can’t tell that to the 363,000 Georgians still looking for work. Our state ranks 40th in the nation in its unemployment rate. Georgia is not at its pinnacle.”
Additionally, Carter said that when adjusted for inflation the average Georgia family makes in effect $6,000 less than the average family did 10 years ago. In 2002, Georgia ranked 15th in median household income. Today, the state ranks 33rd in the nation.
“That’s a real pay cut and it means that middle class income has dropped twice as fast in Georgia as it has in the rest of the country. You didn’t hear that in the Governor’s address,” Carter said. “I believe in creating a strong climate for business. But you can’t have a strong economy if you leave the middle class and small business behind.”