ATLANTA - Gov. Brian Kemp is proposing that Georgia borrow nearly $900 million for construction projects and equipment next year, an amount likely to rise before lawmakers get done with the state budget.
Key projects in the Republican governor’s plan include $70 million to expand the state-owned convention center in Savannah and $55 million to build a new headquarters for the Department of Public Safety in Atlanta.
Lawmakers authorized borrowing of nearly $1.1 billion last year. The agency that forecasts Georgia’s borrowing said the state could issue up to $1.2 billion in bonds this year.
In one shift, Kemp wants to move more funding to aid school construction from districts statewide to those that have small property tax bases. Kemp would borrow $155 million for construction in such low-wealth districts, up from $44 million this year. But the amount to buy new school buses would fall to $12.5 million from $20 million this year, if lawmakers don’t change it. A new school bus can cost more than $100,000, depending on the model.
The state last year allocated $13.7 million in bonds for the Savannah expansion project, which calls for doubling the current 100,000-square-foot (9,300 square meters) exhibit hall, plus adding a large new ballroom, 15 smaller meeting rooms and 900 parking spaces. Some local money is also going to what’s supposed to be a $275 million project. But leaders of the state authority that run the convention center have said they will probably need state leaders to set aside more money next year. The state allotted $9.3 million for planning in 2017 and 2018.
For the Department of Public Safety project, Commissioner Mark McDonough told lawmakers Wednesday that an old building on the site southeast of downtown Atlanta has been demolished. A state document seeking a designer for the project in July said the new headquarters would have 125,000 to 150,000 square feet (11,600 square meters to nearly 14,000 square meters).
Kemp also proposes:
— $48 million for a new science and engineering research building and equipment at the University of Georgia in Athens. — $35 million to renovate and expand a building at Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville.
— $30.7 million for a new building for Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
— $19.5 million for a new business building at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega.
— $6 million for a new conference center at Lake Lanier.
— $2 million for a new driver’s services office in Dalton.
Georgia had $9.4 billion in debt as of June 30. The state constitution limits Georgia to borrowing of 10% of state revenue. The state, by policy, sets the limit lower at 7%, in part trying to retain its coveted AAA bond rating, which signifies that outside agencies deem Georgia to be among the borrowers most likely to repay its debts. The state projects that it will use about 5.5% of revenue to repay debt in coming years.