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More money than it knows what to do with | Georgia ponders how to spend record surplus

The surplus represents about 5% of the state’s annual budget.

ATLANTA — Georgia’s state government has more money than it knows what to do with, as the state revealed it has a $2.5 billion surplus. 

It was only last year that the state was scrambling to cut budgets because of the COVID-related economic downtown. Now, the surplus represents about 5% of the state’s annual budget.

No plans are in the works yet to use any of the surpluses for any of the above purposes. However, another option that has been floated around is expanded Medicaid.

"Medicaid expansion has always been a great deal," said Joe Binns of Protect Our Care Georgia, who has advocated against GOP opposition to the Obama-era program adopted by 38 other states.

Binns says a two-year Medicaid expansion would transform health care and initially cost the state about $250 million dollars – a mere 9% of the current surplus.

"It’s not a big chunk of this surplus to provide health care to half a million Georgians," Binns said.  "You would have fewer and fewer Georgians seeking primary care in emergency rooms. You also see less uncompensated care in hospitals."

However, others have been firmly against Medicaid expansion, such as Gov. Kemp and the GOP leadership in the legislature.

"You don’t want to create new programs," countered Kyle Wingfield, a conservative policy analyst who says the surplus is best spent on short-term stuff – like road projects or bonuses for teachers.

In particular, Gov. Kemp has mentioned he wants to make college less expensive for students and wants to give more raises to teachers.

GOP lawmakers will "be looking for one-time expenditures for this money, not ongoing expenditures," Wingfield said.

So, why not put the money for a rainy day?  

The state already has an emergency fund – spent in recent years on hurricane cleanup, among other things.  And state officials say it is so full it would be illegal to put more money in it.

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