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Weekly legislative update: Deliberations begin

Randy Nix

State representative

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The first week of the legislative session began with planning sessions, committee meetings and the governor’s State of the State address, as we begin the task of deliberating the best legislation for the advancement of our state.

With an ambitious legislative agenda to navigate, and only 40 legislative days to accomplish the task, we got straight to work. During an eventful first week of the 2016 session, the House convened every day to take up business.

The biggest surprise of the week came on day one when my colleagues and I in the House received a visit from Georgia’s own Miss America, Betty Cantrell! The former Miss Georgia was honored on the House floor and helped us kick off the legislative session by singing “Georgia On My Mind.”

In his State of the State address, Gov. Deal began his address by highlighting the significant economic progress the state has made since the Great Recession of 2008. Currently, Georgia’s Rainy Day Fund, or reserves, have increased to more than $1.43 billion and continue to grow each year.

He noted those same reserves had dropped by $2.3 billion from 2007 to 2011 and were almost completely depleted during that time. Gov. Deal also emphasized the state’s lowest post-recession unemployment rate of 5.6 percent.

In addition, Georgia currently has the third lowest construction unemployment rate in the nation of 4 percent, due to more than 22,000 new manufacturing jobs, which have generated over $900 million in wages to the state. These positive figures were great news and provided an encouraging outlook.

The governor also outlined his proposals for this session and summed up his budget recommendations that will go before the legislature. One of his major areas of emphasis is education reform and the importance of modernizing and improving our schools.

The governor’s FY2017 budget proposal calls for a 3 percent pay raise for teachers to come from an additional $300 million appropriation for K-12 education to the local school boards. Gov. Deal noted that in the past three years, 94 percent of school systems used this additional funding to reduce or entirely eliminate furlough days, and with this funding, teacher furlough days should be a thing of the past.

As we move forward, the governor has asked legislators to carefully review and research recommendations made by an Education Reform Task Force appointed last year. Because this is so vital to the overall betterment of our state, including improving lives and strengthening the economy, the governor understands that this important task will take time to be done well. With this in mind, legislation regarding education reform will be carefully crafted and may be a multiyear process.

The governor also noted that last year’s passage of the transportation bill will allow for the greatest infrastructure improvement in the history of Georgia. The new infrastructure maintenance plan will be based on funding from the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, one of the legislatures’ top priorities last session.

The comprehensive plan included two project lists. The first is for 18 months and valued at $2.2 billion. The Department of Transportation gave an overview of their plan which includes 60 percent of funding going toward much needed repairs and 40 percent for new projects.

The second list is a 10 year list, valued at more $10 billion. This proposal is vital to maintaining the safety of our roads and bridges throughout the state and will also serve as a way to continue to promote economic development in Georgia. I commend Gov. Deal and the Georgia Department of Transportation for following through on this initiative.

I will keep you informed as we learn more about specific projects and funding mechanisms for our roads, bridges, and interstates.

As always, your concerns, questions, and input are very important to me and invaluable as I strive to represent you to the best of my ability. Please contact me with your thoughts at 404-656-5087 or randy.nix@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve you!

Randy Nix is representative for state District 69 in the Georgia House of Representatives.