January 15, 2016

The 2016 General Assembly session began Monday, January 11, when Lt. Governor Cagle and Speaker Ralston gaveled in the Senate and House.  They convened every day this week and will be in session three days next week. They will be off on Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday and off on Tuesday for the Appropriations committees to work on the budget.  This is a break from tradition when they would normally take the entire second week off to work on the budget.


The House and Senate have passed an adjournment resolution, SR 678, which will set their calendar for the first 13 legislative days and take them through February 1.  Another resolution will set the calendar past Feb. 1, and we anticipate the schedule will be to convene Mondays-Thursdays with the session ending sine die on March 24.


Governor Deal gave his “State of the State” on Wednesday and the major focus of his speech was on education.  He is recommending a three percent pay raise for all teachers and is putting an additional $300M for k-12 education in his budget. He addressed the state’s current job skills gap with a plan where students who receive training in one of 11 needed areas would get 100% tuition paid HOPE grants, and he proposed $17M for this program.  He has also proposed $58M for the Move on When Ready program that allows dual enrollment so high school students can attend post-secondary schools without incurring any costs. As well as more funding for education, the Governor is calling for less testing of students.  He discussed recommendations of his Education Reform Commission, including replacing the current QBE formula with a new one, but he said that legislation to implement their recommendations would come in the 2017 legislative session.


In addition to raises for teachers, the budget includes three percent raises for state employees, their first pay raise in a couple of years.  Governor Deal touted the work of the Criminal Justice Reform Council and the positive effects the state has experienced so far as a result of previously passed legislation. He said more recommendations would be forthcoming from the Council this year and he asked legislators to pass legislation based on those recommendations. The Governor noted that while the state’s Rainy Day Fund was almost gone five years ago, it now has over $1.43B in it.


Another big budget item the Governor addressed in his speech was transportation funding. Because of new funds the state is receiving as a result of the transportation bill that passed last session, they are estimating $1B per year will be collected to pay for transportation projects. On Tuesday, the Governor and DOT unveiled a major road construction program with $2.2B to be spent over the next 18 months on short-term projects (resurfacing roads and replacing structurally deficient bridges) and $10B over 10 years for long-term construction.


Governor Deal’s  FY 2017 budget  and amended FY 2016 budget are now available and can be viewed on the OPB website.


As always, please do not hesitate to contact any of us if you have questions or need information on any legislative issue. All bills can be found on the state’s legislative web site, and live action can be watched in the House and Senate chambers when they are in session.

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