Georgia lawmakers begin budget hearings

Members of the Joint Appropriations Committee held their first hearings Tuesday on Gov. Brian Kemp's proposed budgets for this fiscal year and next.

"Last year when we saw revenues begin to slow due in part to the economic softening abroad, we took proactive steps to reduce spending in our budgets to hedge against uncertain times," Gov. Kemp told state lawmakers.

The governor's budget proposal restores nearly $650 million of the $1 billion in cuts made to the state's K-12 education budget this year.

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Gov. Kemp also told lawmakers that while he authorized the use of $100 million in revenue shortfall reserves for FY 2020 and $250 million for FY 2021, that money was not needed thanks to federal COVID-19 relief funding and what he deemed "conservative fiscal leadership."

Kemp said he has instead added $150 million to the state's reserve fund.

"We are padding those reserves at the same time that we're implementing still massive cuts to healthcare and education," said Danny Kanso, a senior policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.  "It does beg the question of, why are we not at least using some of the reserves?"

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Kanso said it is important to note that about 70% of every dollar that Georgia spends goes to healthcare and education, which are the areas of the budget bearing the brunt of the cuts.  He said lawmakers could use some reserve funds or look at "common sense revenue raisers" like the tobacco tax to help bridge the gap.

"There are options on the table to help alleviate these cuts," Kanso explained.

The first round of budget hearings continues through Thursday.

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