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Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy

Nathan Deal: Increase school spending by $547 million

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Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal speaks at the Georgia Chamber Annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

Gov. Nathan Deal will announce this morning that he’s ready to boost education spending by $547 million next year – the largest jump in school funding since the beginning of the Great Recession.

Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Deal, confirmed the governor’s intentions at this morning’s Eggs and Issues breakfast, a precursor to Deal’s state-of-the-state speech later in the day.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogThe emphasis on education spending comes as his three election-year rivals — state School Superintendent John Barge and Dalton Mayor David Pennington, both Republicans, and Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter — hammer the GOP incumbent over past education cuts.

Deal’s proposed school spending bump was first reported by Denis O’Hayer of WABE (90.1FM), who quoted the governor thusly: “You will see the largest single increase in K-12 funding since about 2007 or ‘08.  It will be an additional half billion dollars that we are putting into K-12 education.”

A portion of the extra spending is aimed at pay increases for teachers, who haven’t seen a raise in several years.

Barge, who was caught off guard by the specifics of the increase, said he was “cautiously optimistic” but said the state has a ways to go to fill the gap. “We’re looking at over $1 billion in austerity cuts,” he said.

When asked if he sees the governor’s proposal as an election-year gambit, he added: “I don’t want to presume a motive, but anything is possible.”

***

Gov. Nathan Deal parceled out a few other tidbits about his spending plan at the Eggs & Issues breakfast.

He plans to spend more than $12 million for life flights in southwest Georgia, where several hospitals have closed, and $5 million to cover tech school training for in the high-growth areas of welding, health care technology, diesel mechanics and information technology.

Another $25 million would be set aside to “meet the needs of businesses looking to locate or expand in our state.” Think closing funds and cash for incentives to lure firms to invest here.

***

As the governor prepared to unfurl education funding increases in a state spending plan that will top $20 billion, one of his Republican rivals was walking back the suggestion that he would tap the state’s restored cash reserves to bolster schools.

School Superintendent John Barge, who is challenging Deal in the GOP primary, raised some alarms at the Capitol with his remarks at an education conference a few days ago, in which he said he would tap the state’s cash reserves to start replacing the $1 billion gap between what goes toward schools and what the state’s school QBE funding formula demands.

“You’re not going to be able to fully restore a billion,” he told Morris News Service’s Walter Jones. “I know that. But it’s not going to take that to alleviate some of the pressure. We’ve got to start somewhere.”

We bugged him about it today to get more details since there are legal and fiscal limits to what the reserve account can fund. He wanted to clarify:

“I probably wasn’t perfectly clear. What I meant to say by that statement is our reserves our built up but we still have increased revenue coming in. It’s time to start restoring funding to QBE ….

“I wasn’t clear in that comment. I didn’t mean we would use that reserve fund, I meant it’s time to use that increase and apply it to the QBE. I know I said it — I just should have taken the opportunity to clarify. “

What he said.

***

The move to allow college administrators to “opt in” to allow expanded gun rights on college campuses has a new twist. State Rep. Alan Powell, one of the measure’s sponsors, told GPB’s “On The Story” that students, not administrators, may yet have the final say.

“We’re looking at an idea that maybe the provision could be to let the students have a vote, a referendum on the issue on their respective campuses,” said the Hartwell Republican. “There’s a lot of possibilities and we’re looking at all of them.”

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Linda Murphy wipes away a tear during a memorial in the House Chambers for her husband, the late Rep. Quincy Murphy of Augusta. Lawmakers, including House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, right, paid tribute to Murphy and Rep. Calvin Hill of Canton. Both lawmakers died last year. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

***

Richard Belcher of Channel 2 Action News got it on the record: State Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellvilles, will ask the state to pay the legal fees arising from his acquittal on 18 felony counts associated with the misuse of his legislative expense account:

One of Balfour’s attorneys, Ken Hodges, put the cost at “north of $100,000.”

***

Expect more national attention for Michelle Nunn. The Washington Post already laid out a Sunday A1 story on the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, and we bumped into a New York Times reporter working on a step-back piece on Georgia’s elections in Athens on Tuesday.

***

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer is reporting that criminal defense attorney Stacey Jackson, an African-American and a Republican, will seek the Republican nomination for the southwest Georgia House seat currently held by Democrat Debbie Buckner:

“The question is almost why not?” Jackson said Tuesday morning. “I grew up in Harris County. My father was an educator in Talbot County and the principal at Central-Talbotton in the 1980s before he move to Harris County-Carver Middle School. My mother is assistant principal at Harris County High School. I have relatives in Meriwether County and relatives in Columbus. It makes sense.”

***

These lines from Reuters are sure to receive an airing out by several local media outlets today:

Nissan Motor Co Ltd (7201.T) has lifted U.S. production of its all-electric Leaf by about 50 percent to 3,000 units a month to meet growing demand for the car, the head of the Japanese automaker’s North American operations said on Tuesday.

Jose Munoz said the Leaf logged record sales of 2,500 units in December and was now the best-selling car in some dealerships in Atlanta, where the government is helping promote the technology, outpacing the Altima sedan.

If we’re not mistaken, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle owns one of the vehicles.

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