Gov. Nathan Deal, left, and Sen. Jason Carter.

Gov. Nathan Deal gave his annual State of the State address today, outlining a budget plan of $42.3 billion, which includes funding coming from the state and federal governments. According to our media affiliate CBS Atlanta, Deal has proposed spending about $20.8 billion in state funds that come largely from personal income and sales tax collections.

Deal said his budget plan includes an additional $547 million for primary and secondary public schools in the state. He said the money will help local school systems increase the number of school days, reduce teacher furloughs and increase teacher salaries.

“My approach as governor has been to do in the hard times, what is almost impossible for government to do in the good times; that is, make state government programs leaner and more efficient and concentrate scarce resources on those areas that will produce the best and most long lasting results,” Deal said. “To that end, we have eliminated certain programs and consolidated others in order to achieve greater efficiency in the use of taxpayer dollars. While fighting to hold the line on K-12 education, we have reduced the number of state employees by 12,750 from 5 years ago, which is a drop of 16.5 percent.”

State Sen. Jason Carter, a gubernatorial hopeful, gave the Democratic response to Deal’s speech. Carter said the single biggest failure of Georgia’s current leadership – and the biggest drain on the state’s economy – is the dismantling of the state’s education system. Carter said he believes in creating a strong climate for business, but that is not possible with policies that leave the middle class and small business behind.

“Governor Deal says Georgia today is, ‘at the pinnacle.’ He is bursting with pride that a single magazine rated Georgia the best place to do business,” Carter said. “You can’t tell that to the 363,000 Georgians still looking for work. Our state ranks 40th in the nation in its unemployment rate. Georgia is not at its pinnacle.”

Carter said the failure to prioritize education spending is among the primary reasons for Georgia’s lackluster economy. He said the U.S. Department of Education has ranked the state fourth worst in high school graduation rates and added that almost three-quarters of our school districts have stopped teaching students the full 180 days per year. He proposed a new approach to prioritizing education to grow the state’s economy by creating a separate education budget. Under Carter’s plan, every year the legislature would be forced to consider the state budget in two parts. Once the education budget has been approved, state elected officials would then consider the funding of the rest of the government.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.