Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp signed a $25.9 billion state budget Tuesday that he called “bittersweet” because of $2.2 billion in spending cuts brought on by the devastation the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking on Georgia’s economy.

“This budget reflects our values as a state. It prioritizes education, health care and public safety,” Kemp said during a signing ceremony at his Capitol office. “But this budget speaks to some of the hard choices made by state leaders.”

Despite 10% across-the-board reductions to state agency budgets, Kemp stressed that he and legislative budget writers still were able to fully fund K-12 student enrollment growth as well as projected growth in Georgia’s Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs.

Tapping into the state’s general-fund budget reserves for $250 million along with $50 million from Georgia’s share of the national tobacco settlement helped avoid the furlough days that had been looming over teachers and state employees.

In the public safety arena, the budget includes funds to expand the Georgia Bureau of investigation’s Gang Task Force and provide a 50-trooper training school.

Kemp also highlighted the $1.13 billion bond package as an economic development opportunity. It includes $335 million for K-12 school construction, $340 million to repair and renovate state-owned buildings and $115 million to repair, renovate and – in some cases – replace roads and bridges.

“This bond package was designed with projects for every part of our state, to help Georgia regain its competitive advantage,” the governor said.

However, the budget still cuts K-12 education by $950 million, while teachers and state employees must do without the 2% raises Kemp had included in his original budget recommendations, before COVID-19 prompted shelter-in-place orders that closed businesses, laid off workers and sent state tax collections plummeting.

Legislative Democrats, most of whom voted against the budget, took majority Republicans to task for not allowing revenue raising proposals – including a tobacco tax increase and legislation reining in state tax credits – to reach the floor of either the House or Senate for a vote.

Kemp was flanked throughout Tuesday’s signing ceremony by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, and his Senate counterpart, Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia.

The governor bumped fists with both men after signing the budget, which takes effect on Wednesday.