Georgia lawmakers have begun the state’s 157th General Assembly, which convened on January 9 and will be the first of a two-year legislative cycle. This year marks the first time in more than 60 years that both the state Senate and House will have new leaders. Burt Jones, a former senator, will be the new Lieutenant Governor and assume the top position in the Senate, while Rep. Jon Burns will become the Speaker of the House.
$6.6 Billion Budget Surplus
Georgia ended the last fiscal year with a $6.6 billion surplus, even after filling its savings account to the legal limit.
Governor Brian Kemp’s spending proposal features a combination of tax measures to address the surplus, including a property tax rebate, replacement of funds lost due to suspension of the gas tax, and additional state income tax rebates.
- Property Tax Rebate: Governor Kemp is proposing a $1 billion spending plan to provide Georgia homeowners with a property tax rebate of $500 per year to offset high property tax bills. This rebate is similar to another from 2009.
- Gas Tax Suspension: The state has suspended the motor fuel tax since March 2022, extending it on a month-by-month basis. The suspension ends this month, and Governor Kemp plans to use $1.7 billion or more of the surplus to replace the missed revenue.
- Income Tax Rebate: Gov. Kemp has proposed $1.1 billion in state income tax rebates, offering $250 to single filers, $375 to single filers who are heads of the household, and $500 rebates to married couples filing jointly.
Lawmakers will likely spend the remaining $3 billion surplus on roads, bridges, education, and other key projects.
The Mental Health Parity Act, passed by Georgia lawmakers last year, requires insurance providers to offer coverage for mental and behavioral health conditions that is equivalent to coverage for physical health conditions. This means that treatments such as therapy and counseling are now covered by insurance in the same way as traditional medical treatments.
This year, health advocates are pushing for increased funding for community-based addiction and mental health prevention, treatment, and recovery services. This would ensure that Georgia residents have access to necessary resources to address mental health and addiction issues, including counseling, therapy, support groups, medication-assisted treatment, and other forms of evidence-based care.
Big picture: Georgia is one of the few states requiring a runoff election when no candidate receives a majority of the vote count. A runoff occurs four weeks after an election when no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.
Why it matters: There have been calls – including by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top election official – to reform the runoff process after two consecutive cycles of close U.S. Senate runoffs ended with notable Republican losses.
Possible solutions include lowering the threshold for winning an election to a 45% majority, instituting ranked-choice voting, or eliminating runoffs altogether.
Lawmakers will address the need for additional funding for children living in poverty, higher student transportation costs, and the need to better fund school support staff by considering an overhaul of the Quality Basic Education Act.
The current school funding formula is seen by many as outdated and inadequate in addressing the costs of digital devices and addressing mental health issues in schools. It is uncertain if lawmakers will resolve this issue during the current legislative session or at a later time.
Sports betting is currently illegal in Georgia, but lawmakers are expected to consider legislation allowing individuals attending or watching a sporting event to place bets using their phones.
If the bill passes, the revenue from sports betting would be directed toward the Hope Scholarship, which helps offset tuition costs for academically successful students. However, some are concerned that legalizing sports betting could lead to increased addiction, crime, and bankruptcy.