The Georgia General Assembly’s 2020 session was, by far, the most unusual and most challenging in the 16 years I have represented Barrow County in the Georgia House of Representatives.
We had not one, but two, unprecedented interruptions of the session. The first was in early February to give the appropriations committees of the House and Senate more time to understand the governor’s proposed cuts to the mid-year and FY2021 budgets and to make changes that would fund services we felt were vital.
When we returned to the Gold Dome Feb. 18, we had an amended budget for FY2020 that we could live with. It passed quickly, and Gov. Brian Kemp signed it after adding $100 million in emergency funding to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We also felt pretty good about our initial work on the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. We had found ways to fund more services while even including raises for teachers and state employees.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic spread, cutting the legs out from under Georgia's economy and the state government. The mounting public health emergency forced a second unplanned recess starting March 13. It was surreal.
Nevertheless, my appropriations counterpart in the Senate — Sen. Jack Hill — and I felt we were on track with the new budget for FY2021 and would be back together in a couple of weeks.
But in the third week of the recess, on April 6, Sen. Hill died sitting at his desk at home in Reidsville. Because of his tremendous expertise about state finances, and his seasoned leadership in the Senate, Jack's death was a blow to this state. He and I had become such close friends over our decade of working together on budgets; his death was a crushing personal loss to me.
Sen. Blake Tillery of Valdosta soon stepped into a new role as chairman of Senate Appropriations. He and I had to land on the same page real fast.
The session finally started again on June 15. Thanks to an improved revenue picture after the state's economy began reopening and people got back to work, the budget got a little breathing room.
In the end, the governor shaved the initial 14-percent cut to roughly 10 percent. He also added $250 million from the Rainy Day Fund, which thankfully prevented all anticipated furloughs.
Thanks to the cooperation of some really dedicated folks who pulled together during this historic crisis, Georgia now has in place the balanced budget the legislature is constitutionally required to pass.
We will continue to monitor the course of this pandemic and its impact on state revenues and take any further action needed when we come back in early January.
Thank you for the opportunity to represent District 116. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at 404-463-2245 or at email@example.com. May God bless you and your family, this wonderful county, and our great state.