State Fiscal Briefs

September 2020

Georgia’s budget basics

According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Georgia’s total expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2019 were $53.5 billion, including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds. NASBO reported that total expenditures across all states in FY 2019 were $2.1 trillion, ranging from $4.5 billion in South Dakota to $311.3 billion in California.

Each state allocates spending and taxes differently among different levels of governments, and local governments often administer programs with state funds, so combined state and local government data show a more complete picture of individual benefits and contributions when comparing states.

Per the US Census Bureau, Georgia’s combined state and local direct general expenditures were $71.6 billion in FY 2017 (the most recent year census data were available), or $6,872 per capita. (Census data exclude “business-like” activities such as utilities and transfers between state and local governments.) National per capita direct general expenditures were $9,446.

Georgia’s largest spending areas per capita were elementary and secondary education ($1,908) and public welfare ($1,168). The Census Bureau includes most Medicaid spending in public welfare but also allocates some of it to public hospitals. Per capita spending is useful for state comparisons but is an incomplete metric because it doesn’t provide any information about a state’s demographics, policy decisions, administrative procedures, or residents’ choices.

Georgia’s combined state and local general revenues were $72.7 billion in FY 2017, or $6,985 per capita. National per capita general revenues were $9,592. Georgia uses all major state and local taxes. After federal transfers, Georgia’s largest sources of per capita revenue were charges ($1,250), such as state university tuition and highway tolls, and property taxes ($1,161).

Georgia’s politics

Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, was elected in 2018 with 50 percent of the vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2022.

Republicans control both the House of Representatives (104 Republicans to 75 Democrats) and Senate (35 Republicans to 21 Democrats). Control of the governor’s mansion and each house of the legislature gives Republicans a trifecta in Georgia. The entire legislature is up for election in 2020 because both representatives and senators serve two-year terms.

Georgia’s budget institutions, rules, and constraints

Georgia uses an annual budget. The legislature must pass a balanced budget, but it can carry a deficit over into the following year. Georgia does not have any other tax and expenditure limits. However, there are limits on total authorized debt and debt service incurred by the state.

(Note: Some states have informal budget institutions that constrain overall spending growth or a specific expenditure’s growth.)

Georgia’s recent fiscal debates

  • In 2018, Georgia enacted a significant tax cut, in part to offset revenue increases caused by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s broadening of the tax base, and effects on the state’s tax code. The cut (HB 918) lowered the top individual income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.75 percent (the state’s tax is relatively flat, with top rates on taxable income above $7,000 for single filers and $10,000 for married couples), doubled the standard deduction for all filers (e.g., from $3,000 to $6,000 for married filers), and lowered the corporate income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.75 percent.
  • Georgia is one of 14 states that have not accepted funds for expanding Medicaid eligibility created by the Affordable Care Act. The Urban Institute estimates that if Georgia had accepted Medicaid expansion, it would have received 28 percent more federal Medicaid funds ($3 billion) and increased its state spending on Medicaid 6.8 percent ($246 million). Urban estimates that savings from Medicaid expansion (e.g., lower spending on uncompensated care) would, like with other states, fully or largely offset Georgia’s additional direct state spending increases. Governor Kemp is attempting to secure waivers from the federal government for a limited Medicaid expansion.
  • In August 2019, after the state enacted its FY 2020 budget, Governor Kemp requested budget cuts from most state agencies, though K–12 education, state universities, and Medicaid were exempted. The governor asked each agency to submit budget-reduction proposals that produce a 4 percent cut in FY 2020 spending and a 6 percent cut for FY 2021 spending. As a result, hundreds of state jobs are likely to be eliminated. This is the first request for budget cuts in Georgia since the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession.

Georgia’s current budget

Governor Brian Kemp’s FY 2020 budget and 2019 state of the state address mostly focused on his proposal to boost spending on K–12 education, specifically his planned $3,000 increase in teacher salaries. His budget message also mentioned targeted investments in higher education, school security, and mental health programs.

The legislature passed its budget in May 2019. The enacted budget was in general alignment with the governor’s proposals and included the $3,000 increase in teacher salaries.

Governor Kemp released his proposed FY 2021 budget and gave his 2020 state of the state address in January 2020.

For more on Georgia’s budget, see