Legislative Update Week 2 - January 22, 2016

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On Friday, January 22, 2016, we completed the eighth day of the 40 day 2016 General Assembly session.  Although not much activity occurred while we were actually “convened” and “in session”, a lot of work is going on behind the scenes particularly with Budget hearings, which are important and very time-consuming, and Committee hearings on bills and other issues. Governor Deal presented his 2017 budget which includes $23.7 billion in projected revenue and expenditure requests totaling of $20.4 billion.

Budget Proposal for 2017

As I have mentioned before, we are constitutionally required to pass a balanced state budget each year which is a very good thing for the State of Georgia. The budget process has two broad components – preparing and passing the  Fiscal Year 2017 (FY2017) budget and making adjustments to the Amended Fiscal Year 2016 (AFY2016) budget.  The full fiscal year budget uses a projected state revenue estimates to guide state spending from July 1 to June 30 of the following fiscal year (in this case 2017).  The amended budget is “tweaked” using a more accurate estimate of actual state revenue and adjusts the AYF2016 budget for any discrepancies between the projected and actual revenue.

While I am pleased to see our state continue to place a priority on education spending (discussed below), I must admit my genuine concern that we are being presented a FY2017 budget that increases spending by $1.0 billion over 2016.  Why must we always increase spending when revenue increases?  Why not instead reduce our state income tax, for example?

Some of the increase in the budget is because Georgia has seen tremendous population growth. Between 2000 and 2015, Georgia’s population grew by more than two million, making us the eighth largest state. A larger population brings with it an increased demand for spending.  The challenge we face it to control spending while still supporting the growth in population. We have seen an increase in state revenues each of the past three years for a variety of reasons, all of which are positive.  Due to this population growth and accompanying revenue growth, we are financially able to make funding adjustments in the AFY2016 budget, in particular $109,913,685 for K-12 education.  Additionally, the AFY2016 budget proposes an increase of $1,651,892 to support the information technology applications utilized by local school systems.  The governor also proposed an adjustment of $14.9 million in this year’s amended budget to provide grants to local school systems to improve internet connectivity and for live online instruction and other digital resources for students and teachers.  In the digital world that we live in, it is important that our students have access to the technology and resources necessary to be successful in life.

My hope is that Georgia will continue to improve our classroom technology resources, helping our students to learn, grow and compete in this highly competitive world. But I also hope that we can capitalize on these advances by reducing and eliminating redundant or unnecessary administrative and over-head expenses while focusing on improving a quality classroom experience for our students AND teachers.  I caution our state’s education and political leaders to avoid falling into the trap of wasting our precious tax dollars by unnecessarily increasing administrative, overhead expenses.

The AFY2016 budget proposal also makes funding adjustments in education, impacting students planning to attend our colleges and universities. Since 2012, the number of Zell Miller Scholars at both public and private universities increased by more than forty percent. To account for this increase in eligible individuals, the governor has allocated an additional $30.3 million for AFY2016 and $59.1 million for FY2017 for Zell Miller and HOPE Scholarship recipients. The Zell Miller Scholarship rewards those high achieving students with 3.7 and higher GPAs.

To expand on my earlier comment, in his State of the State Address last week, the governor announced that the FY2017 budget proposal is the largest budget Georgia’s history at $23.7 billion, approximately one billion dollars more than the total FY2016 budget.  The governor listed his funding priorities, and as one would expect, education remains a top priority for 2017.

As a result of revenue increases, the governor has recommended an investment of$300 million for K-12 education to allow local school districts to give salary increases, eliminate furlough days or increase instruction days.  The budget recommendation also includes an additional $26.2 million in funding for Pre-K teachers for salary increases up to three percent, as well as increasing salaries for assistant teachers. Georgia’s future depends on attracting and retaining high-quality educators, and I agree 100% that our educators should be rewarded for their hard work and commitment.

I am including a link to a budget summary prepared by the ACCG, the association representing county governments in Georgia.  This summary, unfortunately, does not summarize all of the FY2017 budget areas.

Criminal Justice Advances and Education

While advancements in education are undoubtedly important, Georgia has made progress in other key areas as well, namely our state’s criminal justice reform system. State juvenile justice facilities have seen a twenty-five percent decrease in population since the implementation of reforms, and Gov. Deal’s FY2017 budget calls for an additional $3.8 million towards the accountability courts to rehabilitate offenders and juvenile incentive grants aimed at providing community alternatives, as a proven alternative to sentencing.  Gov. Deal has also allocated an additional $4.3 million in FY2017 to support educational initiatives in the state prison system. This includes operational costs for two charter high schools and expansion of GED fast track, vocational, and general education programs. These programs will give individuals the tools they need to succeed and transition into re-entry with a skill set and a purpose, and these reforms will ultimately keep more Georgians safe.

 Transportation Funding in the FY2017 Budget

You may recall that in 2015 the General Assembly voted to pass the Transportation Funding Act (HB170) which is approximately a $1.0 billion dollar tax increase and will arguably go down as the largest single tax increase in Georgia’s history.  You may also recall that I voted against this bill, even knowing as I do that Georgia needs to fund transportation needs because of the broke and broken Federal Highway Trust Fund.  I believed then and I believe now that Georgia did not fully develop and explore all of the other options available to us to generate needed funding –without such a sizeable tax increase.  Fortunately, because of the current artificially low price of a barrel of oil and hence the low price of gasoline, Georgia drivers have not felt the impact of the huge tax increase.  Certainly, Georgia drivers can be thankful for cheaper gas!  Although our domestic oil producers and explorers are being intentionally and purposefully hurt by the Middle East oil cartel’s artificially low oil prices.

As a result of HB170’s passage last session, Gov. Deal’s budget proposal for FY2017 appropriates over $800 million to help maintain and improve the state’s roads and bridges to keep freight and our commuters moving safely and efficiently. This major funding source for our state’s transportation infrastructure will benefit Georgians in many ways and will be felt throughout the state years to come.  Look for more discussion regarding Gerogia’s transportation funding in future updates.

Upcoming Religious Liberty Events At The Capitol

There are several opportunities available throughout the next couple of months for you to help make a difference in our state and our nation. The freedom to practice religion is a natural right recognized by our Founders and one they protected for all of us under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In Georgia, we are working diligently to pass legislation that will help ensure these religious freedoms are not undermined by recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and related adverse actions that could occur at the local or state levels.  I support the legislation called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The bill number is SB129.  I have made my support of this important legislation known for some time.

If you have the time, you can help get this legislation passed by coming to the Capitol on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 and attending Georgia Religious Freedom Day. Activities begin at 8 a.m. with the Benham Brothers at the Depot. Dr. Franklin Graham will host a prayer gathering at noon at Liberty Plaza. A variety of faith based organizations and churches are expected to be here standing up for religious freedom, and you will have the opportunity to talk with state legislators about your right to freedom of religion.

Whether or not you can come to Atlanta, I urge you to contact David Ralston, the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the Georgia General Assembly by email at david.ralston@house.ga.gov or by phone at (404) 656-5020). Please tell Speaker Ralston that you want him to allow the RFRA bill (SB129) to come to the House floor for a vote. I believe the bill will pass the House as it did the Senate in 2015, but the next step is to let Representatives vote on the bill in 2016.

 Georgia’s Proposed Education Standards (the following is reposted from the GA DOE)

Georgia Department of Education Comment Period - Proposed new science and social studies standards open for 60-day public comment period

January 15, 2016 - The State  Board of Education has posted, for a 60-day public comment period, the first Georgia Standards of Excellence (GSE) for science and social studies. If approved, the standards will be implemented in the 2017-18 school year, following a full year of teacher training.

The drafts of the revised Georgia Standards of Excellence can be found here:  https://www.georgiastandards.org/Pages/Proposed-Revisions-to-Science-and-Social-Studies-Standards.aspx.

Feedback on the revised Science Standards can be given here:
http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2527712/48b394068fb5.

Feedback on the revised Social Studies Standards can be given here:
http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2527565/Survey-of-Revised-Social-Studies-Standards

The standards, if approved, will replace the current Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) in science and social studies with the Georgia Standards of Excellence. They were developed based on a formal review and evaluation process which included opportunities for teachers, parents and families, students, business and industry, and community members to participate through surveys and committees. Now, the public will have 60 days to review the proposed standards and provide feedback before the State Board of Education votes on whether to approve them.

“I’m committed to ensuring appropriate, fully vetted standards that are developed based on public feedback, in time for teachers to receive ample training,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “I encourage all those who care about public education in Georgia to review the proposed standards and share their thoughts. Whether you’re an educator, a parent, a student, or simply a concerned citizen, we value your feedback and urge you to take the time to share it with us before these standards are finalized and voted on by the State Board of Education.” 

As part of the process of review that produced the proposed new standards, science and social studies teachers across the state were asked to provide feedback for every single standard and element in their grade level or high school course. The science and social studies surveys each drew more than 9,000 teachers, with participation from every school district. Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) assisted in development of the survey, and the University System of Georgia provided a third-party analysis of the survey results.

Students, parents and families, business and industry, and community members were also invited to provide feedback on the existing standards. SEDL, an affiliate of American Institutes for Research, assisted in management of the survey, and Georgia State University provided a third-party analysis of the results.

Survey results were used by practicing Georgia social studies and science teachers to guide revisions made to the existing standards. Advisory and academic committees also took part in the revision; these included district-level instructional leaders and representatives from business and industry, Georgia’s university and technical college systems, nonprofit organizations and other education-related state agencies.

Survey opportunities will close on March 14, 2016, 5:00 P.M. EST.

Drafts of Revised Standards: https://www.georgiastandards.org/Pages/Proposed-Revisions-to-Science-and-Social-Studies-Standards.aspx

New Cities or New Townships in Georgia – Which Proposal Makes Most Sense?

In the coming days, I will send out facts and figures and share with you my views on the issue of whether or not St. Simons Island should be incorporated into a new CITY – and all that comes with creating a new level of government and the potential for new and higher taxes and government growth – or does a TOWNSHIP make more sense by solving the single issue facing St. Simons residents of having control over island development.  Look for more on this later.

Bills to Watch That I Support or Oppose

I apologize for the length of this email, but there is a lot to cover that I did not get to in this newsletter.

In the next several days I will email a list of bills that I have sponsored or that I support.  I will also provide a list of bills that I oppose.  These are Bills to Watch!

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In closing, I want to know about issues that are most important to you, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you. I also encourage you to visit your State Capitol, where you are always welcome to visit me at my capitol office, located in the Coverdale Office Building, Suite 411. You may also call my capitol office at 404-656-0126 or reach me via email at jeff.jones@house.ga.gov

Please also encourage your friends and neighbors to sign up for my email updates by going to my website www.votejeffjones.com and enter your email address.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.  My door is always open.

Sincerely,

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Representative Jeff Jones


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