Abrams calls for using budget surplus to invest in Georgians

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams argues it’s time for Georgia to use its budget surplus to invest in its residents, accusing Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans of harming the state by prioritizing low taxes and low spending.

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

“What I’m saying is put the 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 on Tuesday. “Let’s use the resources that are in our state to do what’s right for the people of the state.”

Trailing in the polls, Abrams is focused on the economy as she seeks to press for a reset on an issue that has emerged as a major vulnerability for Democrats across the United States this year amid the… inflation and high gasoline prices. Kemp hopes the economy will be an especially big 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 Peach State home,” Kemp said in a campaign speech last month in the Atlanta suburb of McDonough. “We’ve created well-paying jobs in every corner of Georgia, landed the biggest economic development deals in our state’s history, passed the biggest income tax cut on record, and kept the government out of trouble. out of your way and out of your pocket.”

Kemp plans to unveil his own plans Thursday for some of Georgia’s surplus. It’s likely to include another round of state income tax refunds as well as property tax relief for homeowners, said a Kemp campaign official with knowledge of the governor’s plans. spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the announcement.

Nodding to Abrams’ work as a voting rights advocate, Kemp said she shares responsibility for soaring inflation and stubbornly high gas prices in helping get Joe Biden elected. He calls it the “Biden-Abrams agenda.”

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

Abrams and other Democrats hope to move away from inflation and find ways for the government to 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 assistance. to small businesses.

But in 2022, Georgia is full of money. The state closed its fiscal year in June with a surplus of about $5 billion, above a $2.3 billion surplus from the previous year, and a fund of $4.3 billion. dollars legally protected.

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 making a bargain,” Abrams said. “You can either give dividends to your wealthiest shareholders or invest in your company’s infrastructure to create more opportunities and generate more revenue. I want to do the latter.

Kemp warns that increased spending will make inflation worse, and argues that Abrams will eventually seek to raise taxes after spending the excess.

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

Abrams adamantly vows not to raise taxes and says his spending plan is viable.

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

She’s also trying to upstage Kemp on some policies, advocating for another round of taxpayer checks, like a billion-dollar income tax refund that Kemp championed earlier this year. Kemp has repeatedly suspended Georgia’s state gasoline tax for short periods, but Abrams is asking Kemp to commit now to suspending it until the end of the year. And Abrams has pledged not to repeal a state income tax cut that begins in 2024 and could ultimately cut taxes by $2 billion.

Kemp said Abrams’ support for his proposals shows voters he is the one to 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 depending on how the winds are blowing or how the polls are going.”

Abrams notes that Georgia ranked 24th among states in per capita income in the early 2000s, but has fallen to 40th. Although careful observers debate the cause of this, Abrams attributes it to directing too many benefits to the wealthy.

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

“As long as our plans are based on the aspiration of our people, then that’s not the right approach,” Abrams said.

Instead, she said she plans to focus on small businesses, help minority-owned businesses catch up and promote economic mobility in an area of ​​the country where the poor are the least likely to progress.

“We can invest at all levels of our economy and everyone can prosper,” she said.

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