The beginning of the legislative session is a lot like starting a new school year. The first day is filled with excitement, and everyone is happy to see each other. A large amount of time is dedicated to setting schedules, listening to important presentations and following proper procedures set forth by the House and Senate to establish that the legislative session has started. However, it’s now time to focus on our true purpose and get to work.

Our first week ended with an assignment to review Governor Deal’s budget recommendations for the FY 2017 budget, as well as the adjusted FY 2016 budget. Governor Deal boldly set the agenda in his State of the State Address during a joint session held on Wednesday, January 13. He commended the state for the economic and financial progress made since 2011 and spoke of the true leadership shown through the trials of the Great Recession. In looking ahead, Gov. Deal prioritized extra efforts in supporting K-12 and higher education, the unemployment rate and transportation.

Gov. Deal heavily emphasized education in his address. He plans to allot $300 million of his 2017 budget to increase teacher pay, $416 million to K-12 education and $388 million to pre-K education. He also seeks to give $17.1 million for technical college grants through the Strategic industries Workforce Development Program and $58.3 million to the Move On When Ready legislation. Gov. Deal believes emphasizing education will decrease our dropout rate, which currently stands at 3.66% per year with 96,660 students failing to finish high school between 2011 and our current school year. He also wishes to drastically decrease the number of chronically failing schools that are affecting approximately 74,000 K-12 students in Georgia. To honor and award our best teachers, Gov. Deal set aside funds to compensate them with a 3% increase in salary.

Along with education, Gov. Deal addressed the substantial decrease in our unemployment rate over the past five years, from 10.4% in 2011 to 5.6% in 2016, and stressed the importance of continuing to lower unemployment rates. To remedy turnover in government jobs, Gov. Deal added a 3% salary increase to all state government employees.

Transportation was another main priority of Gov. Deal’s throughout his address. He praised efforts to increase funding for the paving of roads which resulted in a decrease of thirty years or more between road resurfacings. In his budget report, Gov. Deal allocated $100 million to the Department of Transportation for repairs and renovations of bridges through the state and over $825 million in new state general and motor fuel funds for transportation in response to HB 170 from the 2015 Session. During a press release held on Tuesday, January 12, Gov. Deal expanded on his plans for transportation transformation, including a 10-year, $10 billion plan to increase toll lanes, add new highways, bridges and roads, and upgrade intersections. Overall, we have a busy session ahead of us as we push these policies and new ideas to fruition and make our state outstanding.

I am honored that you have put your trust in me and I will always put your best interests at the forefront of my decision making while here at the Capitol. Please feel free to contact my office at any time to talk about pending legislation or address other concerns in our district – my door and phone lines are always open!