Local legislators found numerous things to like as Gov. Nathan Deal delivered his final State of the State address Thursday to a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly.
The 75-year-old governor choked up multiple times during his 45 minutes at the House rostrum, thanking voters for their “kindness ... support ... and your prayers."
Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, said he was struck by the emphasis Deal put on "planting seeds" to benefit the next generation.
"He was being reflective, putting into perspective some of the things he put into effect," Lumsden said. "And he gave homage to his wife (Sandra Deal) and the services she performed for Georgia."
Deal hailed an economic boom stemming from his seven years in office, during which he invested in education, overhauled the criminal justice system and helped attract a legion of new businesses. He urged lawmakers not to change course.
In his last state operating budget Deal proposes a $50 billion spending plan, with $26 billion coming from state coffers and the rest from federal sources. Among his targeted priorities: $22.9 million for a fledgling state commission on children’s mental health.
Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on Health and Human Services. She said they expect to expand some early intervention services, which she touted as the most effective way to combat larger problems — such as suicides, crime and homelessness — that can accompany mental illness in adults.
"We'll know more after the budget hearings next week what we can possibly add ... but I'm very grateful there was such a strong emphasis on his part," Dempsey said.
She and Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, also praised Deal's spotlight on the Technical College System of Georgia and the economic opportunities it's creating.
The governor announced Cedartown native Laura Gammage as a new deputy commissioner in the TCSG, focusing on workforce development. He also is adding $1 million to fund two more mobile labs that bring state prisoners training in skilled labor in preparation for their release.
Coomer said Deal's "belief that economic development is the primary engine for fixing just about every social ill we have in the state" was underscored by a video about a prisoner who became a certified welder and now makes $18 an hour.
"He was able to take care of his dependents, provide a home for himself and others, buy a car, buy equipment ... These are all economic activities which, repeated across the state, are providing benefits not just for the individual but merchants and the community in general," Coomer said.
Deal did not mention the possibility of tax cuts — something Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and others say they intend to push this session. Nor did the governor delve into Medicaid, health care or any concerns over how the recently enacted federal tax overhaul will affect Georgians.
He also sidestepped any mention of the Trump administration’s recent announcement that it will allow offshore drilling, against the wishes of many coastal states. A Deal spokesman this week said the governor “has some concerns about opening up Georgia’s pristine coast” and would “communicate those concerns” to the state’s Washington delegation.
Rome News-Tribune staff writer Diane Wagner contributed to this report.