Kemp says state will pay a $1,000 year-end bonus to public and school employees

Gov. Brian Kemp and state leaders announce a one-time supplement for state employees, public school teachers and staff, along with University System of Georgia employees at the State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, December 18, 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Georgia’s government will put a little extra jingle in the pockets of state, university and public school employees, paying them a $1,000 year-end bonus, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday.

The Republican governor also said he would propose a permanent $104 million yearly allocation for school security going forward, enough to provide $45,000 to every Georgia public school, as he makes further plans to spend Georgia’s $11 billion in surplus funds.

Officials said the roughly 112,000 state and university employees would get the extra $1,000 by the end of the year, while school districts will determine when the roughly 196,000 teachers and support staff get the bonus. Elected officials and judges won’t get the cash.

“We have heard from our agency heads about the need to retain those with valuable skills and knowledge,” Kemp said during a news conference at the Georgia Capitol. “This one time end-of-year retention payment will help us do just that.”

The governor’s administration says it’s still studying whether it will propose permanent pay raises in the upcoming budget. But with all state representatives and senators up for election in 2024, Kemp and top Republican lawmakers are beginning to hint that they expect permanent pay boosts. They delivered $7,000 in pay raises to teachers and state and university employees during Kemp’s first five years.

“It’s going to be a good Christmas and New Year here in Georgia,” Kemp said. “And there’s more good news coming in the weeks and months ahead. So, stay tuned.”

Lawmakers and Kemp have previously delivered multiple rounds of one-time school security grants totaling $184 million. The new plan would give each school $45,000 each year, allowing for ongoing spending. Kemp said schools could use that for whatever security purpose they believe is most pressing, but said it’s meant to underwrite a security officer for each school.

“This $45,000 number was really a number where if the schools want to hire school resource officer, this funding should be able to take care of that. That’s what it was designed for, really, so we could have a school resource officer in every school, if that’s what the locals want.”

Superintendents, though, have said a police-certified school resource officer costs substantially more, as much as $80,000 including benefits.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who supports Kemp’s plan, has also proposed paying teachers and school employees an additional $10,000 a year to become certified to carry a gun in school. Kemp declined to express an opinion on that plan, although House lawmakers have greeted it coolly.

The nearly $330 million in overall bonuses will come out of the current year’s budget, said Kemp spokesperson Garrison Douglas, with lawmakers approving the money in a budget amendment once they return in January. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Matt Hatchett, a Dublin Republican, said lawmakers don’t object to Kemp spending the money now even though they haven’t officially appropriated it.

“We’ve signaled our support,” Hatchett said.

Kemp can propose new spending because state tax collections are on track to run another multibillion dollar surplus despite signs that tax revenue is in slight decline. Georgia has already built up $11 billion in unallocated surplus, in addition to its legally-designated $5.4 billion rainy day account, that Kemp and lawmakers can spend as they like.

Earlier this month, Kemp and Republican lawmakers said they would speed up an already-planned state income tax cut, setting a flat income tax rate of 5.39% starting Jan. 1. That cut, from Georgia’s current system with a top 5.75% tax rate, is projected to cost $1.1 billion in forgone tax revenue. Kemp earlier rolled back gasoline and diesel taxes for a little more than two months at an estimated cost of $450 million.