On Friday, the Legislature completed the 36th day of the session. With four more days to go until the final day of legislative business, the General Assembly has decided to complete its work this week by convening every day except Thursday. We still have a lot of work ahead of us in a short amount of time, but I am confident that we will complete this year's session having passed sound public policies for the benefit of all Georgians.
The beginning of the week was devoted to committee work and finalizing the details on the Senate's version of the Fiscal Year 2009 (FY 09) budget. We returned to full session on Thursday, passing a number of bills and preparing for the final days of session. We came back on Friday for what was a historic day in the Senate, as we voted 49 to 6 to pass the largest tax cut ever considered by the Georgia General Assembly.
As I discussed last week, this tax reform plan will bring relief to every working Georgian who pays income taxes, no matter their income or in what tax bracket they fall. Under House Bill 1244, Georgians will receive a 10 percent cut to their state income taxes, beginning July of this year. This plan will provide the broad-based, immediate relief that our citizens so desperately need. I am proud to have the opportunity to bring such substantial relief through this tax reform so that my constituents, and every Georgian, can keep more of their hard-earned money. This is in addition to the property tax relief for seniors in Newton County that we have already passed. If state government got better with higher taxes, we might ask you to pay more. But it doesn't, so we should continue to ask you to pay less and force the state to spend less.
We closed the week by passing the Senate's version of the FY 09 budget. This $21.4 billion package addresses the critical issues facing our state, including water, education, healthcare and transportation. Here's a look at the funding included for each of these areas:
In addition to the more than $40 million included in the FY 08 amended budget for reservoirs, the general budget includes an additional $30 million to increase the state's water storage capacity.
Both the Senate and House have passed several measures to help strengthen Georgia's education system. In that light, the budget includes $56 million for austerity cuts in schools across Georgia, and $22 million for low-wealth school districts throughout the state.
We have ensured that our state's healthcare system is kept running at optimal levels by appropriating $341 million to fully fund the PeachCare for Kids Program. $9.2 million will be dedicated to improving access to healthcare in rural areas of our state, as well as $3 million for public health clinics across Georgia. Finally, among other healthcare funds, there is $17.3 million in total funds for trauma care.
Both the House and Senate versions of the budget have the Rockdale Library improvements at the top of the library list with $2 million slated. You will recall that last year, we provided $2 million to the Newton library system for the new Oak Hill branch library.
Looking ahead to the final week of the 2008 session, I anticipate that the pace will increase dramatically as legislators work to move their most important bills. I look forward to providing a wrap up next week on all that your state Senate accomplished this year.
State Sen. John Douglas serves as Chairman of the Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee. He represents the 17th Senate District, which includes Newton County and portions of Henry, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton counties. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-0503 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.