Each year, the General Assembly passes and the Governor signs two separate budgets, with the primary one being the budget for the upcoming fiscal year (July 1-June 30). The other is the “amended” fiscal year budget, which makes adjustments to the current fiscal year to account for changes in school enrollment and for other unanticipated needs that arise.
A storied history has transformed the budget process over the years. Today, the development of the state budget occurs in several distinct and cyclical phases, repeating on an annual basis.
Phase One (agencies): By law (O.C.G.A. § 45-12-78), all agency budget requests must be submitted to the Office of Planning and Budget by September 1. Using guidelines issued by the Governor several months prior to that deadline, agencies develop these requests detailing their funding needs, as well as strategies for improving their services and results.
Phase Two (OPB): Because Georgia’s constitution requires a balanced budget and the state must therefore operate using available funds, state code dictates that the Governor and his budget office must set projections on how much revenue the state will receive in the upcoming fiscal year. OPB then analyzes the agency requests in the context of this anticipated revenue, carefully examining if the proposed use of current and additional resources will advance state policy goals in a cost-effective manner and meet other operational criteria.
Phase Three (Governor): In the late fall, OPB analysts meet with the Governor and his staff on multiple occasions to brief him on agency requests and make preliminary recommendations based upon their analyses. Upon the conclusion of these meetings and any subsequent discussions with department heads, the Governor then formulates his recommendations for the General Assembly’s review.
Phase Four (legislature): State law requires that the General Assembly have access to the Governor’s Budget Report within five days of convening in January. The General Assembly reviews the Governor’s formal budget recommendations and develops an Appropriations bill. This legislation, which declares how state funds are appropriated to the various state agencies, begins in the House of Representatives. It is reviewed, amended and eventually approved, at which time it is transferred to the Senate.
The Senate then deliberates and adopts a substitute to the House bill, which they send back to the House for acceptance or rejection. Typically, discrepancies between the two versions of the bill lead to the convening of a conference committee made up of members from both chambers. This committee comes up with a compromise proposal to be voted on by both the House and Senate.
Phase Five (Governor): Once the same bill has passed both chambers, it is sent to the Governor, who then has 40 days to sign the legislation before it automatically passes into law. The Governor maintains the constitutional right to strike portions of the budget bill through his line-item veto.
Phase Six (OPB and auditor): Once an Appropriations Act has been passed by the General Assembly and signed into law, OPB ensures that each agency’s program spending does not exceed the amount authorized by the legislature. To this purpose, OPB approves an annual operating budget, makes allotments on a quarterly basis and analyzes how funds are spent. After the fiscal year ends, the State Auditor is responsible for auditing all expenditures of every state agency and operation, including all colleges and universities, authorities and school districts.