ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp unfurled the first major policy proposals of his reelection bid Thursday, pledging to spend $2 billion on another state income tax rebate and revival of a long-dormant state property tax break while contending with Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams over who's best for the state's economy.
After Abrams argued this week that “miserly” Republicans are denying basic services and ignoring inequities in pursuit of low spending and tax cuts for the rich, Kemp renewed criticism of Abrams, again trying to tie her to the unpopularity of Democratic President Joe Biden.
“Abrams plans to spend more, tax more, regulate more,” Kemp said Thursday, “all while driving inflation higher and putting countless livelihoods at risk, just like her pal in the White House.”
Abrams already called for another round of income tax rebates. She’s also called on Kemp to suspend the gas tax through the end of 2022, and has pledged to not try to roll back the income tax cut, even though she criticizes benefits to the wealthy.
“While Brian Kemp is following Stacey Abrams’ lead in calling for tax rebates, he’s still pushing an extreme and dangerous agenda that threatens Georgia families and puts our economy at risk,” said Abrams spokesperson Alex Floyd, citing restrictive abortion laws and loose gun laws.
Kemp is sticking to the script Georgia Republicans have followed in 20 years in power. He said Thursday that if voters reelect him, he will seek a second round of income tax rebates like the $1.1 billion in payments issued this year, according to a Kemp campaign official with knowledge of plans who spoke on condition of anonymity. This year's payments gave dual-earner households $500, single adults with dependents $375, and single adults $250.
The governor also will seek to revive a property tax break that succumbed in 2009 amid the state budget crisis caused by the Great Recession, the official said in previewing Kemp's announcement. That tax break, first created by Democrat Roy Barnes in 1999, cost the state $428 million in 2008, saving homeowners $200 to $300 on tax bills. Kemp wants to go bigger, spending a billion to save what he says will be about $500 a year for taxpayers with homestead exemptions.
With property values rising, most taxpayers will see higher property tax bills this year because local governments and school districts did not reduce tax rates enough to hold tax bills level.
“For young Georgians just getting settled into their first home or parents who are sending their kids off to college, unforeseen jumps in property values and local tax bills over the last year only add to concerns of an uncertain economic future,” Kemp said.
Kemp can hand out cash because Georgia's coffers are fat. The state ran a roughly $5 billion surplus in the year ended June 30, with more than $2 billion in surplus still banked from the year before.
The governor has also repeatedly renewed a gas tax break over five months. His administration plans to draw from the surplus to channel money to roadbuilding in place of what's already $750 million in foregone fuel taxes. Kemp also signed a state income tax cut that begins in 2024 and could eventually reduce taxes by more than $2 billion.
Kemp accuses Abrams of backing his policies only because they're popular.
“She criticized all those things before she came out and is now supporting them," Kemp told reporters Wednesday.
Abrams slammed the property tax break in a speech Tuesday, calling it “paying off the property taxes of mansion owners and millionaires.” The Census Bureau says 66% of Georgians own homes, but Abrams focuses on housing affordability and the Kemp administration's stuttering payout of federal COVID-19 relief to renters.
Abrams argues many, especially in rural Georgia, are missing out. She notes Georgia’s income rankings have fallen during two decades of Republican rule.
“Most Georgia families are doing everything right,” Abrams said Tuesday, arguing for more state investment in education and health care to boost everyone. “They work full-time jobs. They’re putting a little away when they can despite rising prices. Yet middle class families are struggling.”
Kemp used the power of incumbency to stomp Republican challenger David Perdue, delivering benefits and legislative accomplishments before the May primary. But he would have to wait until after any reelection for legislative approval of his new plans, barring an election-season special session. He was flanked Thursday by House Speaker David Ralston and Republican lieutenant governor candidate Burt Jones in support of his plans.
The governor would be building off Georgia's record $21.2 billion in state-incentivized business investments last year, with companies committing to create 51,000 jobs. Georgia also has a record-low unemployment rate.
Kemp argues only Democrats are to blame for economic instability, saying Abrams deserves blame for helping get Biden elected.
“Hardworking Georgians are now faced with a Democrat-controlled Washington D.C. that is hellbent on driving 40-year high inflation even higher, and doing everything they can to make your life harder," Kemp said. “The pain Georgians are feeling at the pump, and at the grocery store, is a direct result of these tax and spend policies pushed by Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams.”