ATLANTA (AP) — Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams is calling for another round of payments to Georgia taxpayers, suggesting incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp should use federal COVID-19 relief money to act now.
Abrams' call, made at a Saturday campaign event, dovetails with her argument that Georgia has enough money to expand Medicaid coverage to all adults, increase pay to teachers and state law enforcement officers, and not increase taxes.
“We know that there are resources available in Georgia to do what’s right for all of Georgians," Abrams told reporters after an event in the Atlanta suburb of McDonough.
She noted that the state had just ended a fiscal year where it could run a surplus in the neighborhood of $5 billion and that another $2.4 billion in federal COVID-19 relief that Kemp can spend without legislative approval has arrived in state bank accounts.
Abrams called for payments of $500 to married couples who file their income taxes jointly, $375 for single people who have dependents and $250 for single people without dependents. That's the same structure as a state income tax rebate paid this spring that Kemp championed and Republican lawmakers approved.
But married couples making more than $250,000 a year would not get Abrams' planned rebates, unlike this spring's payments. She said that's because Republicans have been too generous toward Georgia's top earners, including in a separate income tax cut and restructuring that Kemp signed earlier this year that takes effect next year.
“Under the last tax cut, $500 million went to 50,000 Georgians -- the rest of Georgia split the difference – and we cannot do this again," Abrams said. "Georgia needs to stop giving money away to millionaires and make sure we’re putting money in the pockets of our families and that we’re solving the problems of the future.”
Abrams urged Kemp to make the payments immediately using the federal COVID-19 money.
“He needs to call Joe Biden and see if he can get permission to do it,” Abrams said. "I will. I’ll call and I’ll ask right now. Because we’ve to give immediate help to our people.”
Kemp campaign spokesperson Tate Mitchell mocked Abrams for trying to one-up the governor's ideas, including her calls to extend a suspension of the state gas tax through Dec. 31 and to further increase teacher salaries. Like the additional payments, both echo top Kemp initiatives.
“To this point in the campaign, Stacey Abrams' proposals have amounted to pie-in-the-sky hackery, tax hikes in poor disguise, pro-criminal policies or copycat proposals modeled after Gov. Kemp's successful record of putting Georgians first and fulfilling his promises,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that Kemp will consult with state legislative leaders to decide what to do with what could be more than $7 billion in surplus funds, including money left over from the previous year's surplus, as well as the COVID-19 money, but “won't be asking for Joe Biden's permission.”
Abrams argues that Georgia should also be willing to spend a small fraction of the state surplus to expand the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program to all adults, presenting proposals that she says shows Georgia's surplus is so big that spending it that way be a sustainable course of action even if the state had a sharp recession.
Republicans have been loath to spend any surplus money on continuing obligations, and Kemp has set very low spending limits on state revenue even though Georgia could run another multibillion-dollar surplus in the budget year that began July 1 if revenues only stay level.
Both Abrams and Kemp say that tax relief is a way they can help Georgians deal with inflation, even though economists say pumping more money into the economy is likely to further drive inflation. Kemp's campaign argues that voters should reject Abrams and other Democrats if they are unhappy with inflation, laying blame at the feet of President Joe Biden.
Abrams, on the other hand, is trying to label Kemp as a hypocrite for being perfectly happy to take credit for handing out billions in federal COVID-19 relief while criticizing Biden. She and other Democrats argue their party should get credit for the Republican's ability to shower goodies on businesses, local governments and internet projects, since all eight of Georgia's congressional Republicans voted against Biden's American Rescue Plan. The two Democratic senators that Georgians elected in 2021 — Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff — provided key votes for the package.
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Jeff Amy, The Associated Press