ATLANTA – With a bruising but successful re-election campaign behind him, Gov. Brian Kemp vowed Wednesday to build on the successes of his first term in education, public safety, economic development, and health care.
“The campaigns have all been run … and the people have spoken,” Kemp told a joint session of the Georgia House and Senate in his annual State of State address. “They have given us our marching orders, and it’s time to get back to work.”
Kemp spent some time early in a 30-minute speech highlighting his administration’s accomplishments during the last four years, including a $5,000 pay raise for Georgia teachers and more than 20,000 new jobs primarily in rural communities generated in part by four of the largest economic development projects in the state’s history.
To build on those accomplishments, Kemp is asking the General Assembly to approve another $2,000 teacher raise that would lift salaries more than $7,000 above the Southeast regional average. And to give the workers filling those new jobs somewhere to live, he is proposing the creation of a Rural Workforce Housing Fund enabling the state to partner directly with local governments to develop sites for workforce housing.
“Transformational projects, good-paying jobs, and new investment are worth little if there aren’t options for hardworking Georgians to live where they work,” he said.
With the state sitting atop a $6.6 billion surplus, Kemp urged legislative budget writers to add $1.9 billion in education spending, enabling full funding of the state’s K-12 student funding formula. In the higher education arena, the governor is proposing full funding of the HOPE Scholarships program for the first time in more than a decade.
While touting his administration’s accomplishments to improve public safety, Kemp asked lawmakers to crack down on no-cash bail.
“We can and we must do something about the revolving door of criminal justice, and I look forward to working with this legislature to get it done,” he said.
Kemp also asked for legislation increasing penalties for gang members who recruit children as young as elementary school students.
The sharpest political note the governor sounded was going after the Biden administration for holding up approval of Kemp’s limited Medicaid expansion plan. After the Trump administration signed off on the state’s Pathways to Coverage initiative and its work-study requirements for Medicaid enrollees, Biden’s Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services withdrew the approval.
It took a lawsuit to clear the plan to take effect. Kemp is asking the General Assembly for $52 million in startup costs to launch the program this summer.
“When it comes to health care for hardworking Georgians, the Biden administration would rather play partisan politics than get people insured and lower costs,” Kemp said. “Folks, we don’t have time to wait on Washington, and I don’t have much patience for D.C. posturing!”
Legislative Democrats have long advocated a full expansion of Georgia’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act to cover more than 500,000 Georgians who earn too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance.
Kemp said Wednesday about 345,000 Georgians could qualify for the Pathways program and health-care coverage for the first time without the downside of kicking 200,000 off their private sector insurance.
The governor also proposed legislation allowing pregnant women who qualify to obtain monthly cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Under current law, such aid only goes to eligible women after they have given birth.