Governor Nathan Deal strove to keep positive in his annual State of the State address, which he gave yesterday at the State Capitol before a joint session.
The Governor first looked back on his early years in office when the state, still not out of the recession, had an unemployment rate over 10% and a critically low rainy day fund. Here six years later, unemployment is down near 5%, the rainy day fund has grown to over $2 billion, and the economy continues to excel.
The film industry has exploded, the state’s ports are busier than ever, and dozens of high profile companies have relocated here. And why has Georgia seen this good fortune, asked Deal? “Because we had faith and we accentuated the positive.”
That message set the tone for the rest of the Governor’s speech as he lauded the state’s influx of money, and wasn’t shy about how he planned to use it.
A 3.6% budget increase over FY 2017 will include pay increases for law enforcement and the Division of Family and Children Services, as well as merit-based pay increases built in for all state employees.
Moving into healthcare, Deal hinted at the upcoming bed-tax debate, urging lawmakers to renew the hospital fee which brings in over $300 million for the state’s Medicaid program. That sum is matched by over $600 million in federal funding, all of which would have to be found elsewhere in the budget should it not be renewed.
Deal also warned against taking any big steps toward repealing Obamacare, praising Health and Human Services secretary (nominee) Tom Price for taking control of the situation and hopefully returning healthcare decisions to the state level.
The address then moved to education, long a pet project of the Governor and his wife, a former teacher.
Deal ‘accentuated the positive’ by pointing to a jump in graduation rate, and played a short video by Rep. Amy Carter on the importance of teachers. The 2% salary increase for state teachers he announced next is certainly a positive to be accentuated.
The Governor of course hit on failing schools, the core of his failed ‘school choice’ amendment which failed in November. With over 150 failing schools serving almost 90,000 Georgia students, Deal said pointedly that, “if this pattern of escalation in the number of failing schools does not change, its devastating effects on our state will grow with each passing school year.”
Look for legislation to address the issue to be introduced soon, as the Governor clearly hasn’t given up on what he has made his primary objective to be accomplished before leaving office.
The State of the State finished with the promise of more new jobs from the Cyber Innovation and Training Center, a facility being constructed with the help of a handful of state agencies that will reinforce Georgia’s legacy as the ‘Silicon Valley of the South’. $50 million will be included in the budget for the project, which will serve as a training center and integral tool in the state’s toolbox as it looks to lure more tech companies to the state.