Kemp touts job growth, pushes for pay raises for government workers in 2024. State of the State Address • Georgia Recorder

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp called for higher pay for teachers, police officers and other state employees as well as greater investments in public education and mental health in his State of the State address Thursday.

Kemp's recommendations for the coming year included a 4% cost-of-living increase for more than 300,000 state employees, a $2,500 pay increase for public school teachers and a $3,000 pay raise for state law enforcement officers and Division of Family Services caseworkers and children highlighted services.

Kemp began his address by bragging that Georgia's leadership has worked hard to overcome economic and regulatory challenges set forth by Congress, which he said have contributed to higher costs of living for the average American in recent years. Financial services company LendingClub reported in October that 62% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, including more than half of those earning over $100,000.

The governor said Georgia's continued success is due to a conservative budget that invests heavily in education, public safety and health care while keeping government spending under control.

“Congress has become synonymous with runaway spending, bloated budgets, job-killing regulations, gridlock and partisanship, and elected officials of both parties more interested in becoming famous on cable news than delivering results for the American people,” said he.

Kemp proposes $3,000 for state patrol officers, correctional officers and other state law enforcement agencies. It seeks an additional $205 million for crisis center beds, better pay for mental health workers and other spending increases for some of the state's most vulnerable residents.

Kemp's recommendation for the current year's amended budget and upcoming spending plan is to increase state funding for public school education by a total of $1.8 billion, which includes increasing salaries for preschool and K-12 teachers . His proposed $12.8 billion school budget next year follows a $1.2 billion increase for public education last year, when an additional $840 million went toward health insurance costs for school employees.

In December, Kemp also announced his plans to use $330 million of a billion-dollar surplus toward the one-time $1,000 bonus for state workers.

On Thursday, Kemp also appeared to reiterate his support for passing a school voucher bill in 2024, but did not provide details. Last year, a number of Republican lawmakers joined the Democrats block an invoice That would have provided $6,500 to families in the 25% of Georgia's lowest-performing counties to educate their children at home or in private schools.

Governor Brian Kemp delivers his 2024 State of the State address. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Opponents of school vouchers claim that they result in a loss of resources to local public education that exceeds the amount the state diverts from local school districts.

Kemp also championed the city of Atlanta's controversial construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, dubbed “Cop City” by critics, and the state's first permanent funding for K-12 public safety. provides schools.

Kemp also pointed to previous initiatives aimed at providing $5 billion in tax relief to taxpayers through refunds, lower income tax rates and gas tax suspensions.

“Rather than increasing the size and scope of government, we are using government dollars specifically and effectively to recruit, retain and thank employees in critical roles, from correctional officers to caseworkers,” he said.

2024 State of the State kicks off the election year

Kemp's 2024 address comes during a pivotal year for state and federal politics. With the term-limited governor in the second year of his final four-year term, Georgia's entire 236-member legislature, the U.S. presidency and 14 congressional districts are up for election this year.

Kemp and his fellow Republican lawmakers have been criticized by Democratic lawmakers for not fully expanding Medicaid to address the fact that Georgia has one of the highest health care uninsured rates.

Kemp on Thursday defended health care improvements since the passage of the Patients First Act in 2019, which have helped lower insurance premiums and increase the number of insurers across most of the state.

He also said Thursday that he is confident Georgians will continue to support the conservative leadership when they go to the ballot box in 2024.

“Georgia is successful because we forged our own path, rejected the failed policies of Washington, DC, and worked together to put our citizens first,” Kemp said. “But I think the worst thing we can do is call it a day and coast through what is sure to be a contentious election year.”

Democrats target Kemp's budget

Georgia Democrats criticized the governor for hoarding taxpayer money instead of increasing services, accumulating more than $16 billion between the emergency relief fund and an unreported surplus.

The governor has proposed spending $1.9 billion of the $11 billion unappropriated surplus on one-time expenses, such as planned new medical and dental schools. For the first time in recent years, the state's capital budget is not financed by bonds and debt, which saves interest costs in the long term.

Representative Billy Mitchell, House Minority Leader, and Gloria Butler, Senate Minority Leader, criticized the governor's policies in a press conference following the State of the State. Jill Nolin/Georgia recorder

The budget process is also gaining momentum as state tax revenues show signs of slowing. Excluding fuel tax revenue, government revenue fell 2.5% in the first half of this fiscal year compared to last month. The gas tax has already been suspended previously.

Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler said the cash pile represents a “disinvestment” in government services.

“The truth is that we have all this money left in the budget because we took it away from state agencies, leaving them underfunded, understaffed and unable to respond to Georgia's most serious problems,” the Democrat testified Stone Mountain at a press conference following the governor's conference speech.

Rep. Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat, said the money should be used to fully expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and that more funding should be allocated to housing and public education, particularly early childhood education.

And Rep. Billy Mitchell, House Minority Leader, refuted one of the governor's great applause lines from his speech, in which Kemp said the state of Georgia is “strong, growing and prosperous because we trust our citizens more than we trust the government.” .”

“If that were true, we would trust our citizens to make their own health care decisions, and we would trust our citizen doctors to do the work they were trained to do. We would trust our citizen teachers to teach,” Mitchell said.

Georgia Recorder deputy editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report.