ATLANTA — Members of the Georgia General Assembly are ready to begin their campaigns for another term, fresh off a legislative session highlighted by scads of campaign-friendly maneuvers.
Improving tax revenues bolstered a $42.4 billion state operating budget and allowed Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and legislators to increase public education spending by hundreds of millions of dollars. Much of the new discretionary money will pay for a longer school year, shore up education employees’ health insurance programs and finance construction.
The Republican-dominated body also reeled off a conservative checklist that will appeal to their core supporters. They adopted measures to underscore their opposition to President Barack Obama and his health insurance overhaul. They voted to expand the places where people with a license to carry a weapon can take their guns, including bars. Religious leaders will be able to decide whether to allow people to carry guns in their sanctuaries.
Democrats, despite being an overwhelming minority, got in on the action, too, by securing increases for the popular HOPE scholarship program for the second year in a row.
And legislators from both parties rushed to approve a constitutional amendment that would cap the state’s personal income tax at 6 percent. Voters will have their say in November, alongside elections for governor, other statewide executives and the entire legislature.
House Speaker David Ralston hailed the session as a success, though he rejected the notion that the agenda had anything to do with the coming campaigns. “I think Georgians are pleased with the direction the state is headed,” said Ralston.