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Governor Speaks State of the State
In his State of the State Address this morning, Governor Nathan Deal shared with the full General Assembly his plans to improve public safety, support education, fund health care and continue to encourage new business around the state.
"While times have been tough and we have had to make difficult choices, I will not lead our state with a doomsday mindset, reacting erratically and hastily based on fear or ignorance," the Governor said. "Instead, we will move forward with confidence."
On Public Safety
Furthering the efforts of last year's criminal justice reform — reform expected to save taxpayers at least $264 million over the next 5 years — Governor Deal presented a budget proposal that allocates $11.6 million to fund accountability courts and $5 million to support community-based treatment options for juvenile offenders. These investments, criminal justice reform experts propose, will lower recidivism rates and hence overall costs in the system.
To strengthen public safety on the waterways, Governor Deal proposed a boating under the influence law, one that will set the blood alcohol content standard for BUI at .08, the current standard for driving under the influence.
"If you are too drunk to drive an automobile, you are too drunk to drive a boat," Governor Deal explained.
The proposed legislation remembers Jake and Griffin Prince, 2 brothers killed when a speed boat, driven by a drunk driver, collided with their family's pontoon at Lake Lanier last summer.
The Governor also called for the Kile Glover Boat Education Law, which will place age limits on those who can drive boats and require that children 13 or younger wear life jackets when they're on a moving open boat.
As he'd promised, Governor Deal allocated money in his budget proposal to restore Pre-K to its full 180-day schedule and increase the salaries of early childhood educators. He also earmarked $1.6 million to continue the reading mentor program and an additional $147 million to grow K-12 enrollment in the next fiscal year.
Speaking about higher education, Governor Deal focused on the importance of sponsoring education with employment in mind. Several thousand jobs are currently open for workers holding commercial driver's licenses, and the fields of nursing and early childhood education see similar shortages, he said. To fill these vacancies, he proposed adding funds to the Technical College HOPE Grants that would provide students 90% of their tuition costs for those fields.
The budget also provides for a 3% increase for the Hope Scholarship, making the tally for the scholarship program nearly $600 million for fiscal year 2014.
On Health Care
With the Medicaid program already running a shortfall and its costs expected to rise nearly $1.7 billion over the next 10 years, Governor Deal asked legislators to support the Hospital Medicaid Financing Program Act. The act will allow the Board of Community Health to levy provider fees on hospitals, much the same way the board currently levies fees on nursing homes. Known now as the hospital bed tax, these future fees will allow the state to draw federal funding to buoy Medicaid. Without this state matched funding, the Governor warned, many of the state’s hospitals could face closure.
To retain skilled physicians around the state, the Governor's budget proposal also sets aside $2 million to develop new residency spots and support practicing doctors.
Although the state now sees its lowest unemployment in four years, unemployment numbers are still too high, Governor Deal said.
Encouragingly, though, the state has announced 10,000 new jobs within the last year, and the Revenue Shortfall Reserve has grown some 226% under the Governor's watch.
To promote additional business in the state, the Governor's budget allocates $50 million to fund deepening of the channel at the Port of Savannah. With this investment included, the state will have contributed some $231 million to the project.
"While that is a sizable amount of money, we expect the benefits to be $5.50 for every dollar spent — not a bad return on investment," Governor Deal said.
The Governor concluded his address by tackling the hot-button topic of ethics reform.
"We can build the strongest foundations of frugality, efficiency and competitiveness upon which our state government will rest; but if the citizens of Georgia don’t trust us, it will all be in vain," he said.
He offered that any expansion of ethics reform should apply broadly to all state and local elected officials.
Photo Courtesy Alana Joyner, Office of the Governor
About the Author
Noralil Ryan Fores writes about business, taxes, elections and the environment for GeorgiaGov. She's a graduate of Florida State University's film school and Syracuse University's journalism program.