In response to revenues flattening in recent months, the Governor lowered his revenue by $47,188,929 for FY2012 on Monday, February 20.
Each budget decision we make is a hard one. We understand that like Georgia families, agencies and programs are still hurting from the ongoing economic downturn. We are charged with making decisions we feel are in the best interest of all citizens and ensuring that Georgia continues to live within its means.
Each and every decision we make is to ensure that we are not raising taxes or increasing the burden on Georgia families. I am proud that we place so much importance on being a fiscally responsible state and balancing our budget. Perhaps elected officials in Washington should take a cue from Georgia and other states who continue to ensure that they are living within their means.
HB 741, the fiscal year 2012 amended budget, passed in the Senate Thursday with a vote of 51-1. At almost $18.5 billion, the budget is an increase of nearly $200 million more than 2011. In order for the state to maintain its budget, revenue must increase by 4.4 percent in comparison to last year. Georgia's fiscal year begins July 1 and ends June 30. The fiscal year 2013 budget is currently under review by House and Senate subcommittees. The General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget every year.
As we approach Day 30, the day all Senate bills must crossover to the House to receive a vote, we are seeing a higher number of bills hit the floor for debate. As a unified group, the Majority Caucus has made a commitment to all Georgians to remain diligent in addressing the needs of the education community through effective education reform. This week we passed two very important bills that focus on specific needs in this area. Senate Bills 153 and 289 address the need to protect our educators who are feeling the sting of job loss due to downsizing and to significantly broaden learning opportunities for Georgia students.
SB 153 would require that written documentation be provided to employees of the education system, such as teachers and administrators, detailing the reason for their termination if the termination was due solely to financial reasons. The bill passed with a vote of 51-0. It is an unfortunate circumstance when an educator must be let go due to no fault of their own, and we must do everything in our power to not impede their path to future employment. Educators are on the front lines in our fight for excellent education and we must make sure our laws protect them
SB 289, Digital Learning legislation, requires high school students (beginning with those who enter the ninth grade in the 2014-2015 school year) to complete at least one online learning course during their high school career. The bill is intended to benefit taxpayers, schools, and students by ensuring that graduates are able to meet the ever-changing demands of the 21st century marketplace. The bill passed with a vote of 36-15.
Months ago, we discussed the Department of Revenue collecting additional fees for "In God We Trust" stickers that could be placed on state license plates where the county name is currently printed. It is unconscionable that we as a state would profit from an expression of faith and respect for our nation's motto. 15 others states, including a majority of our neighboring states, have incorporated "In God We Trust" on their state issued license plates. My bill, Senate Bill 293, will allow all license plates to optionally display the nation's motto "In God We Trust" in lieu of the county name or other statements located at the bottom of the tag at no additional cost. The Department of Revenue will not be able to profit from those choosing to display the nation's motto. This bill passed out of the Finance Committee Thursday with a unanimous vote.
On Wednesday, the Senate honored members of the National Guard by welcoming them to the Senate chamber for a special presentation and moment of silence honoring the families of National Guard members who gave their lives in service to our country. During the presentation of Senate Resolution 958, we paused to reflect on the sacrifice of the Georgia Guard soldiers, airmen and others who have lost their lives during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The soldiers and airmen honored embodied a spirit of service, willing to find meaning in something greater than themselves by serving as guardians of this nation's freedom. Bremen High School graduate SGT Paul Saylor and SPC Joshua Dingler, son of a fellow Bremen High School classmate of mine, were among the 45 servicemen honored. These men made the ultimate sacrifice and left a lasting impact on our nation, our state, and the 31st district. Their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
If you are a student, special interest group, or simply a concerned citizen interested in becoming more familiar with the legislative process, I urge you to take advantage of the next several legislative weeks by making a special trip to the State Capitol. I encourage you to visit with me or contact my office in order to share your ideas for how we can continue to make Georgia the great state that it is.