Largest is the $50 million earmarked for another installment in the state’s share of deepening the Savannah River’s shipping channel. He noted in his State of the State Address – as he does on most occasions – the importance of the Savannah port to the state.
“While that is a sizable amount of money, we expect the benefits to be $5.50 for every dollar spent, not a bad return on investment,” he said.
Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, was pleased by that, despite the overall cutting in Deal’s plan.
“There was good news, and that is more money for the ports,” he said.
Water of another kind also got the governor’s attention, namely $65 million for local governments to construct sewers, water lines and reservoirs. The funds are designed to ensure adequate supplies by fixing leaky systems and creating new sources.
To create new workers through the state’s lottery-funded programs, Deal is restoring 10 days that were cut two years ago from the Pre-K program, adding 3 percent to the payout from the HOPE Scholarship while also boosting HOPE Grants to tech-college students in fields with worker shortages like truck driving, nursing and daycare.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, applauded the plans for the lottery programs.
“Down our way with the ports, there’s a real shortage of truck drivers,” he said, noting that the classes don’t qualify for federal grants or loans. “…The HOPE Scholarship increase was also good. I think a lot of us are surprised.”
For medical education, Deal puts $2 million toward the establishment of new residency programs for physicians wrapping up their training in cities like Athens, Rome and Savannah.
“I want to thank Dr. Ricardo Azziz, the president of Georgia Regents University Augusta, for leading this effort and the participating hospitals for making it possible for us to develop 400 new residency slots,” Deal said. “We believe this is one of the best ways to retain medical doctors in our state.”
Georgia Regents also gets $45 million for a cancer-research building.
Altamaha Technical College’s $30 million to build a Golden Isles Campus in Brunswick and for a classroom building in Kingsland is also in the list of major projects.
The governor proposed no initiatives that beyond those announced earlier. And he stressed again, as he had a day earlier and in other speeches, why he rejected a federal offer of funds to expand eligibility for Medicaid.
He said the current program already has a deficit, and that the 100,000 people expected to enroll at the current eligibility level will combine with requirements in the ObamaCare health-reform law to add $1.7 billion to state expenses over the next 10 years. He expressed doubt that the federal government would keep its promise to share the costs.
But that was the area Democrats were most critical of after the address.
“If we can trust the federal government to give us the federal dollars for the Savannah port expansion, we can certainly trust them to give us the dollars for Medicaid expansion,” said House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta.
The legislature recessed for the next 10 days to hold committee hearings Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on the details of Deal’s budget proposal. Much scrutiny will fall on $550 million in cuts to all state agencies, other than the k-12 education.
“There are only so many places that money can come from,” Abrams said. “… All of the things that directly serve the citizens of Georgia.”