Georgia state lawmakers approve historic budget

Georgia state lawmakers approve historic budget
(Source: WTOC)

ATLANTA (WTOC) - Georgia state lawmakers approved a historic budget Thursday. The move comes on the last day of the 2018 legislative session.

Lawmakers approved the budget nearly unanimously. There was a large applause once the chairman told members that the budget fully funds public education. State lawmakers tell us this is the first time they've done that in the state's history. The $26 billion budget will head to the governor's desk for a signature.

"Quality basic education, I've said all along. When we break the recidivism of crime and violence, education and economics, and for us to step up to the plate today, it was a very good thing looking at the large amount of funds that are going into public education," said Representative Carl Gilliard, District 162.

"We've passed the largest tax cut in Georgia history. We reduced the state income tax for the first time in history. At the same time, we fully funded QBE for the first time in history," said Representative Jesse Petrea, District 166. "May be the best budget in my 21 years that I've seen.'

Right now, public school districts across Georgia are funded through the Quality Basic Education Funding Formula. Not every district gets the same amount. Some school systems were pushing lawmakers to revise that formula this year so that the money is distributed more evenly. That didn't happen - but every district will likely get more money regardless now that there are more education funds to distribute.

The Savannah Chatham County Public School Board was one of the school systems pushing lawmakers to change the formula that decides how much money each school district gets. The SCCPSS School Board's 2018 Legislative Priorities that they submitted to state lawmakers included asking the state to reform the current Quality Basic Education funding formula which calculates and determines how much each school district will receive. Overhauling this formula was also one of Governor Deal's promises in his re-election campaign. Instead, it was decided to add $167 million to the QBE Education Fund.

It's still unclear how much more money each school districts in Georgia will receive.

There is still work to be done on the last day of session, known as 'Sine Die,' which is Latin for 'end of days.' The House and Senate are still voting on bills. The ones that don't pass on Thursday will have to be brought back up next year.

"You come here with enthusiasm to get things done at the beginning of the session, but you're very happy when it comes to a conclusion, particularly if it's a satisfactory year," said Representative Bill Hitchens, Chairman, Defense and Veteran Affairs.

"There's a lot of people that say there is chaos and opportunity. That's whenever a lot of stuff - they call it the dangerous time - a lot of bills are passed when things are running back and forth between the House and the Senate," said Representative Ron Stephens, Chairman, Economic Development and Tourism.  "It's not over until the fat lady sings, so to speak. Until midnight tonight, everything is alive. You might see things you thought were dead pop back up again.'

The distracted driving bill was also on the table. That passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday. Now, it's going back and forth over some technicalities. This would make it against the law to hold your phone while driving. If signed into law, it would be illegal to hold your phone while you drive. You would have to use a Bluetooth device to talk. Representative John Carson says the bill will decrease the number of deadly accidents in our state. We spoke with a member of our delegation about the proposal.

"Safety is a big premise," said Representative Carl Gilliard. "To lose someone because we sometimes get caught up in simple things like texting and talking, I think it was a good step forward for Georgia. We can never bring back the lives, but we're stepping forward to prevent other lives from being lost."

Governor Deal addressed the House and Senate, thanking them for their partnership in what will be his final year as governor. After that, we asked him about the school funding and possibly redoing the funding formula for smaller districts.

"We have now set the foundation upon which that reform can take place. We've satisfied the financial obligations that are encouraged and actually put in forth in the law," Governor Deal said.

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