Abrams calls for using budget surpluses to invest in Georgians

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams argues it’s time for Georgia to use its budget surplus to invest in its citizens, accusing Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans of hurting the state by prioritizing low taxes and low spending.

With the state flush with $7 billion in additional funding, Abrams has proposed $1 billion in new spending, including expanding Medicaid and giving raises to teachers, state police and prison guards.

“What I’m saying is let’s put Georgians to work. Let’s invest in Georgians,” Abrams told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of a speech on the economy she is expected to deliver Tuesday. “Let’s use the resources that are in our state to do what’s right for the people of the state .”

Following the polls, Abrams is focusing on the economy as she looks to press reset on an issue that has emerged as a top vulnerability for Democrats across the US this year, amid inflation and high gas prices. Kemp hopes the economy is a particularly potent issue for him in Georgia this year, as he points to billions in new investment in the state under his administration.

“This team has put our state on the path to greater economic opportunity for everyone who calls the Peach State home,” Kemp said in a campaign speech last month in the Atlanta suburb of McDonough. “We brought good-paying jobs to every corner of Georgia, secured the largest economic development deals in our state’s history, passed the largest income tax cut on record, and kept the government out of your pocket.”

Kemp plans to reveal his own plans Thursday for some of Georgia’s profits. That would likely include another round of state income tax credits plus a property tax credit for homeowners, said a Kemp campaign official with knowledge of the governor’s plans who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the announcement.

Kemp nodded to Abrams’ work as a suffrage advocate, saying she shares responsibility for rising inflation and stubbornly high gas prices by helping get Joe Biden elected. He calls it the “Biden-Abrams agenda.”

The question is whether wallet issues will take precedent over other concerns for voters, including abortion, especially in a state where a six-week ban is now in effect.

Abrams and other Democrats hope to pivot away from inflation and toward ways the government can help voters. Many of her plans are the same as when she ran against Kemp in 2018, including expanding the Medicaid health insurance program to all low-income adults and expanding state aid to small businesses.

But in 2022, Georgia is flush with cash. The state ended the budget year in June with a surplus of about $5 billion, on top of a $2.3 billion surplus from the previous year, and a legally protected $4.3 billion rainy day fund.

Abrams acknowledges that austerity may have been necessary during the Great Recession. Now, however, she says Republicans are inflicting “poverty of imagination and poverty of thought” on Georgia by insisting on low spending and tax cuts.

“I liken it to a company realizing a windfall,” Abrams said. “You can either give dividends to your richest shareholders, or you can invest in the infrastructure of your company so that you can create more opportunities and generate more income. I will do the latter.”

Kemp warns that increased spending will exacerbate inflation and claims that Abrams will eventually seek to raise taxes after spending the surplus.

“What she really believes is more government, controlling more and more of your everyday life and taking more of your hard-earned paychecks,” Kemp said in McDonough.

Abrams promises not to raise taxes and says her spending plan is sustainable.

The Democrat weaves his argument with other attacks on Kemp. She says permissive gun laws and a law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy will drive away business.

She’s also trying to eclipse Kemp on some policies, arguing for another round of checks to taxpayers like a billion-dollar state income tax break that Kemp championed earlier this year. Kemp has repeatedly suspended Georgia’s state gas tax for short periods, but Abrams is now asking Kemp to promise to suspend it until the end of the year. And Abrams has vowed not to repeal a state income tax cut that begins in 2024 and could eventually reduce taxes by $2 billion.

Kemp said Abrams’ support of his proposals shows voters that he is someone they can trust.

“I’m running on my record. Do you know what Stacey Abrams’ record is? It’s going to be different tomorrow than it was today, I can tell you that,” Kemp said Thursday during a campaign stop in northeast Georgia in Toccoa. “She keeps changing it based on the way the wind is blowing or the way the polls are.”

Abrams notes that Georgia ranked 24th among states for per capita income in the early 2000s, but has fallen to 40th. Although close observers debate the reason for that, Abrams attributes it to governing too many benefits to the rich.

She said it’s time to stop subsidizing out-of-state companies to set up shop and pay low wages, the traditional Southern approach to economic development.

“As long as our plans depend on sucking our people dry, that’s the wrong approach,” Abrams said.

Instead, she said she envisions a focus on small businesses, helping minority-owned businesses catch up and promoting economic mobility in a region of the country where poor people are least likely to get ahead.

“We can invest in every level of our economy and everyone can thrive,” she said.

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

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