2015 Capitol Update Week 7 – Budget, Cannabis, Transportation

A busy two weeks

The Georgia General Assembly passed the half way mark for the 2015 Session this week. Crossover day, the 30th day of the Session and the last day a bill must pass one chamber for consideration by the other, is Friday, March 13. Sine Die, our last day of the Session, is April 2.

The House passed two pieces of legislation frequently making the news – the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget (HB 76) and Medical Cannabis Oil (HB 1). I voted YES on both pieces of legislation.

FY 2016 Budget at $21.7 Billion

The budget effective July 1, 2015 reflects an increase of $946 million, or 4.5%, over the prior year. K-12 education receives 60% of all new spending, over $570 million. The House budget also maintains State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certified school employees while transitioning the cost to the local school systems as these individuals are not state employees. Higher education received approximately 12% of the increase.

The House increased investment in transportation as well with an infusion of both $55 million in cash and $210 million in bonds. In fact, 20% of the entire bond package funds transportation improvements including $100 million to repair replace and renovate bridges and another $100 million allocated to statewide transit systems. Finally, $10 million in bonds will pay for rail rehabilitation, seawall construction and dike improvements along the Savannah River.

Including agency transfers, special funds, and federal funds, the total state budget exceeds $40 billion.

Margaret Kaiser, Wes Cantrell, me, Tom Rice
My seatmates listening to budget presentation.
L to R: Margaret Kaiser, Wes Cantrell, me, and Tom Rice.


HB 170 the Transportation Funding Act

House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts continues to work with all interested parties to modify the proposal to provide significant resources to our state’s transportation infrastructure. Next week, the House Transportation Committee will again consider the bill – I welcome your input as a member of the committee and your state Representative – email me your thoughts Brett@VoteHarrell.com

Is HB 170 a tax increase? Yes and transportation is a core government function rightly funded via taxation. That said, as one that has demonstrated time and again to be a low tax advocate, I am, thus far, supportive of the initiative as it includes several policy positions I believe beneficial for our state’s future.

On January 23, 2015, prior to introduction of HB 170, I wrote advocating for the following policy positions reflected in both HB 170 and the FY 2016 budget:

While reserving the discretion to cast your vote in opposition, I recognize that whatever form HB 170 might pass the House will not be the final form once reviewed by the Senate. I believe we should continue the process to reach an agreeable means to increase transportation funding.

Income Tax Cuts – HB 435 and HB 445

Representative B. J. Pak of Lilburn and I introduced HB 435 this week that wouldreduce the top state income tax bracket from 6% to 5.25% by eliminating all itemized deductions save charitable contributions and mortgage interest up to $20,000 per year.

Representative John Carson of Marietta introduced HB 445 that would reduce the top state income tax rate further to 4% by increasing the statewide sales tax to 5% and imposing that tax on a greater number of goods and services including food.

I do not anticipate either bill will become law this year, however, I believe it is well past time the General Assembly begins the discussion on reducing income taxes for all Georgians.

My letter of January 23, 2015 advocating for increased transportation funding and state income tax cuts.

Next week

I have authored four bills that have passed the House and are now pending before Senate committees: HB 49, HB 85, HB 206, and HB 261.

If there is a bill or issue that is important to you or your family, send me a quick email at Brett@VoteHarrell.com and let me know your opinion.

Committee calendars

House committee meeting calendar:

Senate committee meeting calendar:

As always, I remain appreciative that you allow me to serve as your state Representative. I encourage you to contact me with any comments or questions you have about the legislation being considered at the state Capitol.  You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0254 or on my cell at 404-966-5804 or via email at brett.harrell@house.ga.gov.


Thank you,


Brett Harrell