ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — Governor Brian Kemp’s Statewide 2022 Budget Tour took off at Epps Aviation in Atlanta. The tour included stops in Columbus, Valdosta and Augusta. “There is no playbook for a state budgeting in the middle of a global pandemic,” he said. “The budget helps us to live within our means, and that’s exactly what this budget does,” said Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan. The budget, listed as HB 81, was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives with overall bipartisan support back in March.

Kemp says the 2022 fiscal year budget restores $577 million in school funding and an additional $38 million for enrollment growth, state charter schools, and highest need school systems. “These investments highlight our ongoing commitment to ensure that every Georgia child, student, educator and school staff member have the resources, training and tools that they need,” he said.

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He went on to reference other key highlights of the budget:

  • The higher education budget includes more than $139 million, allowing for tuition increases and allocating funds for increased enrollment growth.
  • The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning will have $3.5 million in the budget to assist low income families and help them afford child care.
  • Georgia is adding nearly $225 million to Georgia DOT for roadway and transit projects and $112 million in bonds to repair bridges and upgrade the state’s rail network.
  • More than 70% of economic development announcements have been for jobs in rural areas.
  • More than 120,000 homes and businesses in Rural Georgia have increased access to broadband since passage of SB 2 in 2019.

“This balanced budget does not raise taxes, cut essential services or enact widespread furloughs or layoffs,” said Kemp, also referencing how the unemployment rate has dropped for 11 consecutive months and remains below the national average.

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State Representative and House Minority Whip David Wilkerson (D-Powder Springs) says the budget still falls short. He is one of only 21 House Democrats who opposed it. “The governor, of course, is gonna take credit for a lot of the things that we are beneficiaries from the American Rescue Plan passed by Biden,” said Wilkerson. He responded to Kemp’s statement on Georgia’s consistently low unemployment rate. “The governor is saying people are not willing to work because they’re getting unemployment benefits, but then he’s saying that we have low unemployment. You can’t have both at the same time,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson also says the budget fails to address the growing mental health crisis. “For far too long, our prisons have been used as mental health facilities. We’ve always wanted to do something about that,” he said, also indicating the budget short-changes education in Georgia. “Last year, the budget cut about a billion dollars in education. While this restores half of that, there’s still half a billion dollars that we’re short in education. Governor Kemp is relying on the federal government to bail us out.”

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He’s urging Georgians to reach out to the governor and local legislators to bring solutions to the table.