Gov. Brian Kemp Talks 2020 Legislative Session

In a wide-ranging interview, Gov. Brian Kemp addressed some of his legislative priorities for the General Assembly session, which begins on Jan. 13. It will be his second as governor.

This is an excerpted transcript of the conversation.

On The State Budget

In August, Kemp asked state agencies to submit proposed budget cuts for the current fiscal year and next year.

“I think, you know, we’re in a little bit of a dramatic situation, if you will, with our revenues just flattening out. We haven’t seen the growth that we have in years past. …The facts are we just don’t have as much money coming in as we’ve had in our budget. Every year has growth in it from the new kids coming into the educational system, new people that are coming into the health care system because of our state’s growing. And then we have other, you know, government programs that have been implemented over the years that, you know, we have to deal with.

“And so for us to be able to continue to fund our priorities in state government, we had to reduce the budget. And so I’ve ordered the executive branch agencies to do that. And I’ll tell you, it’s been a great exercise. I campaigned on making government smaller and more efficient. So we’ve used this opportunity to get rid of things that we don’t need to be doing to make agencies more efficient, to really take a hard look at, you know, how many telephone lines we have, how many cellphone lines, how many computers, you know, renegotiate and contract, just really creative things that agencies have come up with to meet the cuts. And I think taxpayers can be very proud of that. Because of that work, we’re going to balance our budget again. But we’ll also be able to continue to fund our priorities, like fully fund the education formula, being able to fund public safety and higher education and our health care programs and make sure we’re providing the services that we need to in our state.”

Why Are State Revenues Down?

“I think it’s a lot of different things. We have more to pay for now, too, with the existing revenues that we have, when you look at the holes to fill, because we’ve had the full implementation of the tax cut, which was about a half a billion dollars. We had a change in the TVAT tax, which has I think, cost the state $150 to $200 million of revenue that’s now going to the counties. We’ve certainly got the Hurricane Michael damage on the agriculture economy in southwest Georgia.

“Certainly the trade issues that we have had been very helpful for some Georgia companies and, you know, have been tough on others Even though I think we need to be fighting that fight, I think we’re going to be better off in the long run, I think there may have been some short term repercussions of that, especially in commodity prices. That seems to be turning now, which I think is good for our state.

“So, I mean, those are a few of the things, but even though we’re at record unemployment, a record number of people working in our state, we’re not seeing as many new jobs coming as we have in years past. And I think it’s just because we’re basically at almost full employment.

On Whether Teachers Can Expect An Additional Pay Raise

“Well, I wouldn’t want to comment on that. I’ve been in conversations with the speaker [of the house] and the lieutenant governor as we continue to get ready for first session, and we, you know, build the budget that we’ll present to them. And then they’ll obviously have their input. They have certainly their priorities, and I have mine. Mine are things that I campaigned on and promised people I would do. And that’s what I’m committed to doing. But I respect that they have their priorities, too. And, you know, we had a great budget last year that came out of the session, and I believe we will this year as well.”

Should The General Assembly Cut State Income Tax Rate Again This Year?

“I’m always for cutting taxes. How we do that, I think, is the big question and whether you get the value of those tax cuts and really for tax credits too, what’s the return on investment? That’s the thing that we’ve been kind of looking at. And, you know, we’re in discussions with the legislature about the budget, and we’ll be talking to them about the tax code issue and other things. But [the tax cut is] something that they had initiated. And, you know, we’ll just see where that is going to go.”

Health Care Priorities

“Well, we’ve done a tremendous amount of work on health care. I think Georgians can be proud of not just our efforts, but the General Assembly. We passed over 21 health care bills last year, bringing transparency to the process, taking on antiquated CON [certificate of need] laws, opening up more cancer treatment availability, put a lot of dollars into medical partnerships and programs that will get more doctors into parts of our state that do not have them now and many, many other things, including the Patients First Act, where we give somebody the ability to have access to the Medicaid program, but also have a pathway to come off of the government program into a private-sector health network. And that’s what the waivers are all about.

“And we know it’s going to take a couple of years to get that fully implemented. So that is our focus right now. We’ve been working literally every day to get that proposal off to D.C. …I think there definitely will be health care legislation this year. We don’t really have a big health care agenda. We pretty much put all our chips on the table last session and got everything that we wanted to do, done. But I look forward to working with the legislature. I know there’s some talk of additional transparency in medical billing and other issues, and I’ll look forward to working with them on those because I think there’s still more work for us to do.”

On Adoption and Foster Care Reform

“There’s been a lot of good work that was done on adoption reform back in 2018. I certainly applaud the General Assembly and Gov. Nathan Deal for that. But I believe now is a good time for us to look and see what else we can do to help lower cost, to ease the bureaucracy and make it easier for people to adopt and specifically adopt foster kids so we can get them out of that system, you know, to a great home where they can get the resources that they need to really live a great life in our state and be a valuable member of our community. So we’re working on all that very hard.”

On Policy Priorities To Combat Human Trafficking

“I think we have to continue to raise awareness, continue to urge people to get trained like great companies like Delta and U.P.S. And, you know, a lot of our area hotel folks here in the metro area are training their employees, which is just great. I mean, they volunteered to do that and have actively taken part in that. But we’ve also got a focus on going after the folks that are doing these acts and these illegal activities, the perpetrators themselves. We’re going to be working to put more teeth into the statute to be able to do that. But a big part of the GRACE commission and my wife’s [Marty Kemp] work on this is to help the victims be able to reenter society and to be able to take care of themselves and provide for themselves.”

On Any Future Expansion of Gun Rights Legislation

“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I hunt, I fish, I carry. I support all of those things. I think this year we’re focused on going after street gangs, human trafficking, continuing to focus on education in our state, and the other things that we mentioned. The Second Amendment issues and any other issues like that are always very polarizing; you’ve got to have a lot of legislative buy-in. So I’m sure that we’ll see some of those issues come up during session. You know, what those proposals look like depends on the level of support in the building.” 

On Georgia’s Recent Incremental Water Wars Victory

“Well, we were very grateful for the ruling. You know, we won on all 10 counts because I think we had a good case. And I got lawyers did a really good job, and we had the facts on our side. But, you know, that being said, we have great neighbors and all around Georgia and a lot of great governors. And, you know, I think we’ll continue to try to work with the states to resolve the issue in the long term. We still know the lawsuits that are out there. So we’ve been very humble in reaction to the ruling because we know that there’s more work to do.”

On The Proposed Spaceport In Camden County

Gov. Kemp has been supportive of the project in the past. Recent documents show both the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Navy have safety and security concerns with the plan.

“Well, I think the idea of space travel, in general, is a good idea. I think we need to continue to build off of the new technologies that are created and happening in America every day. And I’m certainly supportive of that, which I think that’s what my comments were referencing to, is the mission that they were working on in Camden County down there. And I would point out to your listeners, that was over two years ago that I made that statement.”