Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp offered few clues for what will – or won’t – be found in the state’s new budget during an annual address to the state’s business leaders and elected officials.
Rather, the Republican governor stuck to familiar talking points and divulged only slight hints of the legislative and spending priorities he plans to unveil in his “state of the state” speech Thursday.
“During the legislative session, we will continue to value life by championing reforms to our state’s foster care and adoption laws,” Kemp told the more than 2,600 people gathered Wednesday at the Georgia World Congress Center for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues breakfast.
“We will invest in education, strengthen our anti-gang and human trafficking laws, and spur economic growth by eliminating red tape on job creators,” he said. “We will budget conservatively and be good stewards of your hard-earned tax dollars.”
The new budget will likely be as notable for what’s not in as it is for what’s in it, with Kemp calling for budget cuts for many agencies in response to sluggish state revenues. There’s also intense curiosity over whether the governor will push for the rest of the $5,000 teacher pay raise he campaigned on in 2018 even as cuts are made. The first $3,000 was funded in this year’s budget.
Lawmakers, though, will be left to wonder when their work will be finished this session. House Speaker David Ralston told the same assembled group that he has no intention of wrapping up things early, as lawmakers eager to return to the campaign trail may have him do.
The Blue Ridge Republican said there is no planned end date for this year’s legislative session, and he said there won’t be one until the budget timeline becomes clearer.
“Georgia is a big, growing, dynamic state and budget decisions that impact the people of this state, I believe, are too important to be influenced by a legislative calendar,” Ralston said.
“We were elected to do a job and we will do that job and we will do it right. We will take the time necessary to get the work done because the Georgians who elected us deserve no less,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, meanwhile, used the moment to tout some of his priorities for the legislative session, including a push to resolve the surprise medical bills that are appearing in Georgians’ mailboxes.
“I’m one of those who believe that we ought to know how much a health care service or procedure costs before three weeks after you get home from the hospital,” Duncan said. “I believe if any other business in this room operated in that format, there would be problems to be had.”
Duncan also announced a task force – headed up by former Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and former Georgia Tech president Bud Peterson – that will identify ways to grow Georgia’s technology industry.
The chamber also outlined its own goals for the session, which include advocating for a public vote on whether to expand gambling opportunities in Georgia – and, if so, to then push for devoting the new revenue to education. The chamber also hopes to see another cut to the state’s income tax rate, said Chamber President Chris Clark.
“That helps balance the playing field in our borderline communities,” said Clark, referring to the income tax rate cut. “Because we have so many Georgians that work in Georgia but they live in Florida or Tennessee. We can reduce that personal income tax rate, and maybe we can move them back in the state of Georgia.”
Florida and Tennessee, of course, do not have an income tax. The proposal teed up for consideration would bring Georgia’s income tax rate down to 5.5%, but it would come at a steep cost – about $550 million – as lawmakers weigh tough budget cuts.