Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp will unfurl his first major policy proposals of his reelection bid Thursday, pledging 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 started swinging at Abrams as he celebrated record-high economic development numbers Wednesday.
"If anyone wants to suggest we aren't delivering on jobs and opportunities for everyone in this state, they should get their facts straight before commenting on things that they simply do not understand," Kemp said.
Abrams is seeking traction against a Republican incumbent she narrowly trails in the polls in a crucial swing state. The challenger argues that not only Kemp's fiscal policies but his support for abortion restrictions, loose gun laws and even tighter controls on what's taught in schools threaten the growth of a $683 billion state economy.
Kemp is sticking to the script Georgia Republicans have followed in 20 years in power. He will tell voters Thursday that if they 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. The tax break, created by Democrat Roy Barnes in 1999, cost the state $428 million in its last year in 2008, saving homeowners $200 to $300 on tax bills.
Kemp said Wednesday that he wants to "help Georgians further fight through a 40-year high inflation and extremely high costs that our citizens are experiencing" focusing on the unpopularity of Democratic President Joe Biden.
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.
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.
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," he said.
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.
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.
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.
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 argues only Democrats are to blame for economic instability.
"The only reason Georgians are worried about going into poverty in rural Georgia right now is because Stacey Abrams helped Joe Biden get elected president," he said Wednesday, "and we have 40-year-high inflation and everything that they're buying — whether it's butter, eggs, milk, meat, any other protein — is astronomical right now."
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.