On Friday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the Fiscal Year 2024 budget at the Hyundai Metaplant in Bryan County, highlighting various provisions in the budget that are aimed at meeting the state’s financial obligations and improving the quality of life for Georgians. In his speech, the governor expressed his commitment to delivering on his promises, noting that there is “a lot of good stuff in this budget to talk about”.
The governor emphasized the importance of education in the state, stating that the budget is geared towards funding the education of 1.75 million K-12 students and 465,000 college students in the state. The budget will pay full tuition for all college students receiving a HOPE Scholarship, while also increasing pay for state and university employees and public school teachers.
However, the budget will also cut teaching by about $66 million, out of a $9 billion University System of Georgia budget. Lawmakers noted that universities should cover the shortfall with some of their roughly $500 million in cash on hand. Additionally, the budget will also provide $500 bonuses for 54,000 retirees in the state Employees Retirement System who have not received regular cost-of-living increases.
Another notable provision in the budget is the expansion of home services for individuals with intellectual, developmental, or physical disabilities, with the number of people receiving such services increasing from 250 to 500. The state currently has thousands of people on a waiting list for such services, and the expansion will help to address some of the unmet needs.
In addition to signing the budget, Governor Kemp also signed House Bill 408, which extends tax exemptions for economic development projects. The bill extends the sales and use tax exemption for certain projects designated as competitive projects of regional significance. The governor noted that most of the communities that have benefited from this tool are located outside of metro Atlanta.
Speaking at the budget-signing ceremony, Governor Kemp also took the opportunity to highlight Georgia’s economic success, noting that the state has been named the number one state to do business for nine years in a row. He attributed this success to the state’s willingness to make tough choices, partnership, pro-business approach, and wise budgeting. The governor also noted that Georgia has more people working than ever before, with an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent, which he described as “incredible”.
The governor further noted that Georgia has beaten every state record in commerce and trade, and that in less than a year, the state has announced four of the largest economic development projects in Georgia history. The largest of these projects is taking place at the Hyundai Metaplant, which is expected to bring 8,100 jobs and over $5.54 billion in investment to the region. In addition, suppliers for the future plant are also moving to Georgia, bringing over 4,500 new jobs and roughly $1.96 billion in investment.
Governor Kemp also highlighted the joint venture between Hyundai and SK On in Bartow County for an EV battery facility, which is expected to bring a further 3,500 new jobs and roughly $5 billion in investment to the state. The governor described these projects as transformational, noting that they are great examples of why HB 408 is necessary.
The governor concluded his speech by reiterating the state’s commitment to education and investment in the workforce pipeline. He noted that the budget fully funds schools and provides $26.9 million to increase the number of counselors who help students overcome personal challenges and support their success. Governor Kemp also highlighted the pay raise for Georgia’s teachers, noting that by the end of his first term, teacher salaries had been raised by a total of $5,000. The budget he signed will add another $2,000 pay raise on top of that, making it the largest pay raise for teachers in state history. Additionally, the budget will allocate more funding for school construction and improvements, as well as increased funding for special education programs.
The governor’s signature on the budget has been met with widespread praise from educators and education advocates across the state. Many have pointed to the pay raise as a crucial step in addressing the ongoing teacher shortage in the state, as well as a means of recognizing the vital role that teachers play in the lives of students and communities.
However, some have criticized the budget for not going far enough in addressing other pressing education issues, such as school infrastructure and funding for support staff. Others have raised concerns about the potential impact of the pay raise on the state’s already strained budget, as well as questions about whether the raise will be enough to attract and retain teachers in a competitive job market.
Despite these concerns, the signing of the budget represents a significant victory for teachers and education advocates in the state. As educators and policymakers continue to grapple with the many challenges facing public education, the pay raise and increased funding for schools represent an important step forward in supporting the teachers and students who make up the foundation of our education system.