Citing increased revenues, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday signed an amended budget that includes pay boosts for state employees, hundreds of millions of dollars to restore education cuts and an earmark of more than $1 billion for tax refunds.
Kemp said the state was in a “unique” economic position that he credited to his decision to reopen businesses early during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This budget funds our priorities and sets our state on a clear path to a continued strong recovery in the coming months as we fully turn the page on the pandemic,” he said at a signing ceremony that included Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and state House Speaker David Ralston.
House Bill 910 covers the budget year ending in June. It includes $5,000 pay boosts for state agency employees and $2,000 bonuses for teachers and other school workers. It also restores more than $380 million to the state’s K-12 funding formula that had been cut when lawmakers feared revenue decreases at the beginning of the pandemic.
Kemp said the bill also includes more than $460 million to upgrade prisons.
Kemp and lawmakers, who are up for reelection this year, have moved to dramatically increase spending thanks to bountiful state tax collections.
A $2.35 billion surplus was left at the end of the 2021 budget even after filling the state’s savings account to its legal limit of $4.3 billion.
That prompted the tax rebate plan, which was approved by the state Senate on Wednesday after it passed earlier in the state House.
People who filed income taxes in Georgia in 2020 and 2021 will get a refund when they file taxes this year. Single filers will receive as much as $250.
That number will increase to $375 for those heading a household and $500 for couples filing jointly.
“House bill 1302 is the fulfillment of our beliefs that when government takes in more money than it needs, the surplus funds should go back to the taxpayers,” state Sen. Clint Dixon, a Gwinnett Republican, said on the Senate floor. “Ultimately, it’s our citizens, not our government, that move our state forward, and they know best how to spend their hard-earned money.”
The measure passed by a vote of 47 to 4.