This week we look at some of the issues that are sure to come up in the 2020 General Assembly. Of course, no one can foresee issues that are lurking out there and not well publicized yet. But, here are my ideas and my thoughts on these. Incidentally, we will be putting out a questionnaire probably in late January-early February seeking your opinions on issues. Hope that you will respond and give us your thoughts as you always have.
Both 2020 amended and 2019 general budgets
This year, budgets will be scrutinized closer than normal, due to the volatile revenue picture and big issue budget items to be considered. The Governor will present his budgets in early January and there will be much interest in what is and is not in the Amended and General Budgets.
The Amended FY 2020 will have little new spending given the continued revenue shortfall facing the state. Hearts would be lightened by a very positive December revenue report which will come out about the time the Governor submits his budget.
The suspense is in the FY 2021 Budget proposal. Will the Governor include the second stage of the income tax cut to 5.5%? That is hard to imagine given the tenuous revenue picture now being painted in the state.
Secondly, will the second stage of the teacher pay raise be in his proposal? That might be possible since no new funding will be required for TRS in this budget — combined with the 6% cuts initiated by the Governor.
Beyond that, these budgets will be remembered by what is not in them. New funding for any project or program will be hard to find nor justify this year as will replacing any budget cuts.
Dual enrollment tweaking
Dual Enrollment of high school students in colleges and universities has grown exponentially from a $25 million program to potentially a $125 million program if funded this year without any changes.
Legislation was introduced in the 2019 Session to offer some changes, but the legislation never reached a consensus and ultimately the program was underfunded in the FY 2020 budget. Look for some changes this Session that may likely restrict courses to “core” subjects that count towards basic college graduation requirements and some sort of cap on the total hours that a student may be allowed to take free of charge. Legislators will be careful to protect Technical education particularly the certificate job related courses.
The tax cut
The state income tax rate has been lowered to 5.75% and is due to be lowered again to 5.5% this Session. This action would require a resolution passed by both houses of the Legislature. The question will be “are state revenues steady enough to support this planned reduction?”
This vote and the reduction could be delayed until state revenues improve.
By now, everyone has heard about the need for broadband expansion connecting rural and hard to reach parts of the state to the rest of the world. The federal government is parceling out small amounts of funding, a few million here and there, but there is no massive federal funding mechanism.
A proposal taxing services failed in the 2019 Session, bringing a House committee to recently suggest a grant program to allow local governments to proceed. The problem with that proposal is the availability of state revenues to fund such a program.
Paying college athletes
Not sure how this issue will manifest itself, but I believe there will be legislation introduced to move the state down that road. College athletic directors are already lobbying against it.
Legal sports gambling has long been just allowed in Las Vegas and Reno, but today sports betting is being legalized in more and more states and has been officially endorsed by professional sports. The growth of the internet and fantasy sports games has encouraged sports gambling and virtually removed the stigma.
As sports gambling becomes more widespread, what do you suppose is the over and under date on the first points shaving scandal?
Horse racing and casinos
I have not been a fan of casinos for various reasons, but have reserved opinion on horse racing because of the side industries that horse racing can bring to a state in the breeding, raising and marketing of horses. What I am not sure about is whether there is any actual tax revenue gain from that business. The last time I asked a question on my district questionnaire about horse racing, the result was 50% “against”, 38% “for” and 12% “undecided”.
The argument for casinos in Georgia has bounced from economic development, to supplementing and saving the HOPE scholarship program, to the “just let the people decide by voting” argument.
My concerns are several.
The numbers jump around on proceeds from casinos. I have not seen much more optimistic returns predicted than $400 million or so. In a state with a $27 billion budget, that’s not much.
I think a casino in the Atlanta area would seriously harm the proceeds of the State Lottery for HOPE, Pre-K and Technical School Grants, now totaling over $1.2 Billion. ... That’s Billion with a “B”.
They now claim that casinos are all about the “entertainment” industry and what they bring to a convention city like Atlanta. Maybe, but isn’t it safe to assume it would alter existing entertainment venues and some would be reduced so that the net gain for the city and state is lessened?
I remember the battle over the Lottery vote and putting that issue on the ballot. That worked out ok, didn’t it? So, I will be putting questions on these and other issues on my questionnaire this winter and look forward to your input. This year, it might even make a difference!