Georgia Governor Brian Kemp begins second term with new pay raise pledge

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Kemp is sworn in for a second term as governor of Georgia


Kemp is sworn in for a second term as governor of Georgia

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ATLANTA (TBEN) — Georgia Governor Brian Kemp promised a low-drama conservative agenda after being sworn in for a second term Thursday, calling for a $2,000 pay increase for all state and university employees and public school teachers and more job growth aimed at the production of electric vehicles.

It’s a view copied from the 59-year-old Republican’s first term, steadily Republican, but not pushing the ideological boundary. Kemp said he will lead similarly during his second four years after taking his oath of office at Georgia State University’s convocation center in Atlanta.

“We stayed focused on what really matters to real people, real families, real communities across our state,” Kemp said. “The deal we offered voters was that your state government would care a lot more about safe streets, good schools and good paying jobs than what the pundits on cable news say.”

Kemp inauguration
FILE – Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks at Ola High School on July 29, 2022 in McDonough, Ga. Kemp will be sworn in for a second term as governor on Thursday, Jan. 12, promising general pay increases for state employees and public school teachers, while questions linger over his long-term legacy, even if he ranks high politically.

Megan Varner/TBEN


Also sworn in were other statewide Republican officials who helped Kemp clinch victory in November when he knocked out Democrat Stacey Abrams. Taking office Thursday were Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, Attorney General Chris Carr, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper, Labor Commissioner Bruce Thompson, Insurance Commissioner John King and School Superintendent Richard Woods.

Kemp’s skyrocketing political successes have given him a national political profile, despite the enmity of former President Donald Trump. Kemp even basked in a presidential boomlet in the weeks after beating Abrams. After taking his oath, he flies to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where his staff says he will tell global elites how his conservative administration has fostered economic success.

Saying that “this construction man from Athens has never been more optimistic about the future of our state,” Kemp put his economic message back at the center of his second term, risking his reputation for nurturing businesses and increasing jobs.

“For the next four years, we will focus on Georgia’s growth, not government growth,” Kemp said. “That’s why we will invest state dollars by putting them back in your pockets, not using them to build new bureaucracy.”

Kemp reiterated his campaign promises to return another $1 billion in income tax returns and a $1.1 billion property tax return. Kemp plans to use Georgia’s $6.6 billion in excess cash to pay those refunds, as well as replenish the state’s road construction coffers after gas tax collection is suspended for 10 months.

But the wage increase pledge will mean new spending, costing hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver pay increases to government employees, even though Abrams had pledged much larger increases for teachers. Kemp said it was necessary to retain employees as turnover among state employees hit a record in the fiscal year ending June 30. Kemp delivered $5,000 in pay raises to teachers and state and university employees in his first term.

“From the classroom to the state patrol, if we want to keep good people in jobs critical to the safety and well-being of our children, our communities and the state as a whole, we must be prepared to be competitive with state pay,” Kemp said.

The governor said he would propose $150 million in one-time grants to improve safety in schools, push districts to help students catch up on things they didn’t learn during the pandemic and help classroom assistants become teachers . Kemp also said he would focus on tougher punishments for criminals.

Citing a spate of planned plants that includes two massive electric vehicle assembly plants and two large battery plants, Kemp said he wants to build on the $23 billion in announced projects to make Georgia the center of electrified transportation.

“By the end of my second term as your governor, I intend to have Georgia recognized as the electric mobility capital of America,” Kemp said, embracing a goal pushed by his chief economic development officer, Pat Wilson.

On Wednesday, South Korean firm Hanwha Solutions announced plans for $2.5 billion in solar panel manufacturing in Georgia.

Brian Robinson, a Republican political consultant who was former Georgia government communications chief Nathan Deal, said Kemp’s “political shackles are off,” especially if Kemp has no plans to run for office again.

“He has the ability to deliver a vision over a period of time, to do something that’s a legacy project. He can think big, he can think bold and deliver on change,” said Robinson, who said that window was likely through the end of the 2024 legislative session, before the lame-duck status will erode Kemp’s influence.

The peak achievements that define Georgia’s most successful recent governors have been centered within the state government. Democrat Joe Frank Harris implemented the state’s current funding formula for education and supported Atlanta’s bid for the 1996 Olympics. Democrat Zell Miller created HOPE scholarships and kindergarten funded by the state lottery. And Deal reformed Georgia’s criminal justice system and supported a tax increase for road construction.

But Kemp says he’s aiming for a long-term project outside of the state government, consistent with his economic focus.

“I believe that our success over the next five, 10 or 15 years will be due to the determination, character and resourcefulness of our people, not just government actions,” said Kemp.