"For this past couple of sessions, if not longer, we have been making it a priority in our caucus and in the Georgia House, to define and refine our state in its offering of a culture of life. These are not empty words, and our priorities are being supported with programs, with personnel and with funding," said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-District 7, Blue Ridge) in his remarks to the Atlanta Press Club on Monday, March 9, 2020.
It is longtime considered conventional wisdom, particularly during election years, that the Republican Party would like to throw Grandma from the train, cut all social services and safety net spending to the quick, and give out only tax cuts to the rich and well-off. That is particularly in evidence on social media, though the Fourth and Fifth Estates hold their own share of the blame for perpetuating these misconceptions.
Currently, in the great state of Georgia, it is a GOP-led House and General Assembly, as well as strong leadership from Georgia's Governor and State Senate which in actuality are proposing a stronger foundation across this state towards a culture of life. And they are putting their money where their mouths are.
Though HB 481 of two sessions ago, during the first legislative session for Governor Brian Kemp, codified significant restrictions for legal access to abortion (still pending under challenges in federal court), these new protections being proposed by this GOP body extend to almost every vulnerable population segment in the state.
Following solid reporting by The Atlanta Journal & Constitution on the poor state and declining conditions of many assisted living, senior care and nursing homes, the House is responding with new regulatory authority, as well as additional funding for four new inspectors within the Department of Community Health. This problem, years in the making, won't be solved overnight, but both the regulators and their oversight (the General Assembly) now are placing a keener eye on these concerns.
The House has also passed the first Parental Leave benefits for both mothers and fathers who are state government employees. This leave will be available not only for post-partum childbirth but to adoptive and foster parents. State House leaders hope this new benefit and offering will be catalytic for additional private sector consideration and adoption, versus cumbersome and often ineffective mandates.
The freshly proposed House budget includes another $1,000 pay raise for all classroom teachers and certified educators, closing on funding a campaign promise of a $5K comp adjustment by Governor Kemp, and bringing Georgia teacher salaries to the highest in the southeast. And for the third or fourth consecutive budget cycle, the General Assembly and Governor will be fully funding Q.B.E., the Quality Basic Education Act, enacted by Democratic state leadership in 1985, but never fully funded until the administrations of Governors Nathan Deal and Brian Kemp.
And though the budget wrangling between the House, State Senate and Governor's office is far from done, the House is taking a hard stand on re-storing funds proposed for reduction in the GBI Crime Lab, with particular sensitivity to the backlog of rape kits across the state, finally eliminated in 2018. In the criminal justice arena, the House also proposes restoration of budget cuts proposed for Accountability Courts, which are particularly critical in reversing the challenged life trajectories of many addicted to alcohol and drugs.
And despite this apparent spending spree in support of many of the state's most challenged populations, the same leadership team is proposing an across the board individual income tax rate cut, to a flat tax rate of 5.375 percent for all individuals and a new corporate rate of 5.75. This effectively will return roughly a quarter billion in currently collected revenues primarily to individual taxpayers.
The House caucus and leadership team have their work cut out for them, because in addition to differences of opinion with the other chamber and Executive branch, there are 180 members of this House, each often with their own opinions on budget priorities. And 'cross-over' day, requiring passage by at least one chamber for a budget or other legislative initiative to live on, looms imminently later this week.
So as with the Corona Virus looming large in all headlines and news coverage, it is important to separate facts from fiction, innuendo from institutional memory and budget realities as well as to occasionally READ budget documents, as that is the most proven way to really see where your elected officials actually place their priorities. Happy reading.