ATLANTA — The legislative session is set to begin Monday, and state lawmakers have a short list of top priorities amid a busy election year.
Lawmakers will be motivated to move quickly and wrap up the session with enough time to return home and start campaigning. One of the first orders of business will be to move the state primary date to May 20 to align with the federal primary, which was moved up under court order to allow more time for overseas and military ballots.
The budget is expected to dominate much of the session, as lawmakers have the benefit of increased revenues that have brought an end to additional spending cuts. That said, don’t expect the Republican leadership to go on a spending spree as they look to balance the budget, a constitutional requirement, and deflect any primary challengers campaigning on limited government.
Yet all signs suggest a significant amount of additional funds will be set aside for education, more than in recent years, as top officials say they are concerned about estimates that more than half of Georgia’s school districts are not meeting the 180-day minimum school calendar set by state law.
“There will be a significant increase in K-12 funding,” Deal said in a recent interview. “It will be done in such a way that it will relieve much of the pressure that local school districts have been under.”
Deal said specifics would be released Wednesday during his State of the State address, but promised that much of the additional revenues not set aside to continuing to rebuild the state’s reserves will be spent on education and meeting obligations under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Education is expected to be a major campaign issue as well, with Deal facing challenges from Republican state schools Superintendent John Barge and Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter.
State lawmakers are unlikely to overhaul the state’s school funding formula, which has its share of critics. House Speaker David Ralston said recently he doesn’t think lawmakers can fix the funding issue this session.