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State’s economy, future starting to brighten

POSTED: January 20, 2014 6:46 p.m.

The Georgia General Assembly reconvened last week, and we have now completed the first five days of our annual 40-day legislative session.


As I begin the second year of my two-year term as your state representative, I want to thank you for the opportunity you have given me, and the responsibility with which you have entrusted me.  I will continue working hard to protect you, your family, and your property. I also want to encourage you over the coming months to contact me in response to any legislation, thoughts, ideas, or concerns.


The second half of this legislative term began with a renewed focus and enthusiasm to effectively represent those who elected us. Under the Gold Dome, and away from our families and businesses, our job is to not only uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of the citizens, but to also balance the state budget — something that is always at the forefront of every legislators mind. By law, the Legislature is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget every legislative session. Washington could take note here!


As Governor Deal addressed a joint session of the state House and Senate, he outlined his priorities for the next year. He noted that the state of our state is excellent, and that our agencies and programs are now leaner and more efficient.


Governor Deal emphasized job growth and highlighted the fact that our state unemployment rate is at its lowest point in the last five years. The goal is to enable our citizens to go back to work (work readiness) and to ensure that our state and our corporations have a trained and reliable workforce. Our future is bright, and we are hopeful and optimistic that the Great Recession that has affected our families and our state is behind us.


This week, Governor Deal also released his annual budget recommendations. The House of Representatives began holding budget hearings within the House Appropriation Committee last week. At the beginning of each legislative session, the governor introduces a budget based on projected state tax revenue collections.


Over the last several years, however, state revenue decreased, requiring annual, as well as mid-year, budget reductions. This year, with a gradual increase in revenue and a slowly improving economy, the amended fiscal year 2014 state budget, as well as the fiscal year 2015 budget, will for the first time in several years see an increase in funding. A few highlights incorporated into the governor’s recommendations include over half a billion additional dollars for K-12 education, the largest increase in seven years.


Governor Deal has also proposed an increase in the award amount for our HOPE scholarship and grant program by 3 percent ($22 million additional). For technical colleges, Governor Deal is recommending the creation of a new Zell Miller HOPE Grant that would cover 100 percent of the tuition for those students within our technical school systems who maintain a 3.5 GPA or higher.


To further help students, the governor is also recommending $10 million for a low-interest loan program, providing these loans at a rate of 1percent for students attending Georgia’s technical colleges. Of particular interest to most citizens of my district and many others in the Savannah area, the governor recommended $35 million for deepening the Port of Savannah, which will bring the total amount provided to $266 million and fulfills Georgia’s portion of the project.


With many of our prisons, jails and youth detention centers at or near capacity in Georgia, Governor Deal re-emphasized the importance of continuing the work toward criminal and juvenile justice reform. He stated that if we help prepare non-violent offenders for the workforce before they are released, once that person has paid his or her debt to society, that he or she will have a much greater chance of success on the outside, and therefore a much lower chance of becoming a repeat offender.


Today, the General Assembly will continue day six of the 2014 legislative session. I will keep you apprised of important legislation that affects your families, your freedoms, and your pocketbooks.  Working with and alongside the other members of both the House and Senate, your best interests will always remain my first priority.


Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance to you or your family. Please feel welcome to write to me at: 501 Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg., Atlanta, GA 30334, email me at bill.hitchens@house.ga.gov, or call my office at (404) 656-0177 or (404) 656-0178.

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