Public education advocates gave a collective sigh of relief on April 28.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed the 2015 state budget that day, and that action gave them hope that school systems might be able to ease up on the worst of the belt-tightening measures. Unpaid furlough days. Larger class sizes. Shorter school years.
State austerity cuts to public education started in 2003 --- well before the Great Recession -- and they are not ending.
But this year, they total $746.6 million, and that to educators, who can do the math, looked better than the $1 billion-plus-a-year cuts in each of the five prior years.
"We have been through tough times since the Great Recession started," Deal said during a candidate forum that was part of the annual meeting of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators’ foundation on September 15th.
But just how tough?
The governor told the crowd that it has taken until this year for overall state revenues to return to the levels they were in 2007.
(The National Bureau of Economic Research declared that the country’s longest recession since World War II lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, although surveys show many people believe it has lasted much longer.)
Given all the debate about state budget cuts through the years -- especially in education -- we decided to run Deal’s statement through the Truth-O-Meter.
We reached out to the Deal campaign as we always do for supporting evidence.
Campaign spokeswoman Jen Talaber said Deal was relying on information from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.
OPB reports shows that 2007 was a fiscal high water mark for the state. Taxes on everything from personal and corporate income to gasoline and alcohol hit $17.8 billion that year, up $1.3 billion from 2006.
Those same documents show that as the national and Georgia economies sank, so did state revenues. At the low point --- which was the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010 -- total tax collection were about $14.5 billion -- or $3.3 billion off the peak.
It wasn’t until Fiscal 2014, which ended June 30 of this year, that total state tax collections were back to -- and slightly above -- 2007 levels, budget documents show.
Tax collections for 2014 were $17.9 billion -- or about $100 million over 2007 levels.
The governor is right on the money on this one.
We rate Deal’s statement as True.