ATLANTA - Gov. Nathan Deal outlined his spending priorities and touted his successes in a State of the State speech Wednesday that was framed more as his argument for re-election later this year, saying he had worked to protect state education spending while slashing the size of state government.
Deal blamed poor economic conditions for much of the state's challenges during his first three years in office and used his speech to make the case that his business-friendly approach and emphasis on job creation had helped improve Georgia's economy.
"When I took office, we still had revenue numbers that made across-the-board budget cuts a necessity," Deal said in his speech to lawmakers. "Now, with your help, we have grown our year-over-year revenues for each quarter that I have been governor without raising taxes."
Deal said he was proposing that nearly 70 percent of new state revenues be dedicated to education, calling it the "largest single year increase in K-12 funding in seven years" with total funding nearly of $8 billion. He said the additional money would be used to "restore instructional days, eliminate teacher furloughs and increase teacher salaries," although how the money will be spent is ultimately a local decision so it's unknown how many teachers across the state will benefit.
The proposal was welcomed by teachers' groups with a note of caution. "It is a step in the right direction for public education," said Calvine Rollins, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.
"The devil, as they say, is in the details," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. "Before we get too enthusiastic, we want to see the actual budget documents and allotments to school districts."