Updates from the Capitol

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The third week of Session we voted on the “Small” or “Amended” budget. It is basically the mid-year adjustment to account for any growth or losses that occurred this year. Happily, revenues increased by about $1.1B or 5% last year. $520M will go to new roads, $200M will go to road maintenance, and $336 will go to local communities for their transportation needs. About $204M will go into K12 Education to help fund the record number of children who are moving to Georgia, as well as another $30M to the HOPE scholarship.

Another $20M will go to Move On When Ready and $15M will provide Internet to schools. $59M will go to Medicaid and $17M will go to Medicare. We also heard from our Chief Justices this week, who reported their new Accountability Courts have reduced crime by 45% and saved Georgia $51M in prison costs. I am working on two large projects this year. The first is a School Transparency Bill.

The General Assembly recently gave local school boards historic levels of unparalleled flexibility. Greater local control is laudable and welcome. Along with that flexibility, however, greater transparency must ensue to ensure accountability.

HB 659 would require all school districts to publish how much money they are spending per school on a centralized, easily accessible website.

Most districts already do this, but many do not. The data we are requesting is information these districts are already collecting, so it is not an administrative burden. The new Federal ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act – which mercifully buries No Child Left Behind) will soon require this data anyway, so it’s something that has to be done sooner or later. Teacher advocates see HB 659 as a teacher-friendly bill because it will show teachers where local money is actually being spent.

The DOE, the Governor’s Office, the Chamber – even PAGE – openly supports this bill. The second thing I am working on is a new BRAC Study Committee that I am championing. Georgia currently has the 5th largest military population in the US with an economic impact of well over $20B a year. Because of the massive federal debt, a future round of base closures is anticipated in 2017 as the military has 30% too much capacity and is determined to cut costs through consolidation. A few of the Generals I used to work for asked me to create a committee that will work to protect our bases.

Is there really a problem? Robins AFB – the largest industrial complex in Georgia – now reports to a general in Oklahoma and has lost a squadron and are in danger of losing a huge wing as well. Fort Benning lost 1000 soldiers and Fort Stewart lost a regiment. Fort McPherson, Fort Gillem, Naval Air Station Dobbins and the Navy Base in Athens have already been closed.

States who don’t protect their bases are sure to lose them. I was proud to honor Trooper Nathan Bradley and Morgan County Sherriff Robert Markley with a Special Invite Resolution this week. Trooper Bradley made international headlines when he took care of the children of a deceased couple last Halloween night instead of taking them to DFACS and later raised almost half a million dollars for their college education. I was also pleased to honor Georgia’s Librarian of the Year, Steve Schaefer and his lovely wife, Rita. Superintendent James Woodard and Sarah Burbach and Chip Meyers also visited me at the Capitol. As always, I am eager to hear how you feel about these topics. I hope you’ll continue to pray for me, and contact me with your constructive comments at: davebelton112@gmail.com

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