Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday he is optimistic about the state’s midyear budget, even though the House is poised to pass a budget that restores many of the cuts the governor had wanted.
The House Appropriations Committee approved a midyear budget Tuesday that restores Kemp’s cuts to public and mental health services, accountability courts, public defender’s offices and programs that train physicians to work in rural Georgia. The full House is expected to vote on the revised budget later Wednesday.
“I’m not concerned at all,” Kemp said of the midyear budget debate. “I continue to push for the things I think should be priorities for our state. … We all have our priorities and I’m pushing hard as I can for mine.”
Kemp made his comments during an appearance Wednesday morning on WDUN’s “Morning Talk with Martha Zoller.”
The vote in the appropriations committee comes after the General Assembly took a nearly two-week break so some of its members could work exclusively on Kemp’s budget proposals. The governor had wanted a 4 percent cut in this year’s budget and a 6 percent cut next year. The requests for budget cuts came amid falling state revenues and Kemp’s desire to fulfill a campaign promise to give pay raises to teachers.
Georgia is required by its constitution to balance its budget, so lawmakers can’t spend more money than the state takes in. The appropriations committee was able to balance its budget plan by eliminating some open positions and eliminating funding for an electronic health records system that the Department of Corrections has never implemented.
But Kemp insisted he wasn’t worried about the House plan, believing that a compromise can be reached.
“We’ve got to work with everyone to get a budget and we’ll do that,” Kemp said. “And I think we’ll have a great budget to keep our state moving forward.”
Kemp’s budget would cut funding to the state’s accountability courts, which allow defendants to avoid prison if they completed a rigorous program overseen by a judge and stay sober, seek treatment and find work. The House budget restores those cuts.
Former Gov. Nathan Deal greatly expanded the programs during his tenure. Deal’s son, Jason Deal, a Hall County Superior Court judge, oversees a drug accountability court which recently celebrated its 100th graduation ceremony.
Kemp said his budget plan and other initiatives are designed to tackle some of Georgia’s biggest problem areas, such as the growth of gangs, human trafficking and health care.
“Education really solves a lot of those issues,” the governor said. “If we had more graduates coming out of our high schools that are prepared to go into the job market, prepared to go into job training programs or go into higher education of some sort, we’d have more people who are working, less people that are joining street gangs, more people who are great members of our society versus going down a path that is causing us a lot of problems.”
On the upcoming Census, Kemp urged Georgian to fill out their Census forms when they arrive in the coming weeks so that state will get the representation in Washington it deserves. The population numbers produced by the Census determine how many members of the House of Representatives each state gets. Georgia gained a congressional district following the 2010 Census and now has 14 representatives.
“Whether we gain a seat in Congress, I think, is probably a longshot, but it’s possible if people will sign up and be counted,” Kemp said.