by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
April 27, 2022
BONAIRE – Gov. Brian Kemp brought his bill-signing tour to the heart of Perdue country Tuesday.
The governor traveled to his GOP challenger David Perdue’s hometown Tuesday, and sat at a table inside the cramped quarters of Perdue’s favorite restaurant, the White Diamond Grill in Bonaire, to sign into law a tax cut plan as lawmakers and local officials squeezed into the small-town diner.
Starting in 2024, the state’s six-bracket income tax rate that tops out today at 5.75% would be flattened and reduced to 5.49%. It would then continue to drop incrementally but only if certain revenue growth indicators are met.
“We can’t fix everything that Washington has broken, but we’re doing our part to lessen the pain on people’s wallets here in Georgia, and today, we will put into place a more long-term system of relief,” Kemp said.
About an hour later, Kemp was sitting on stage with University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue – former U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s first cousin – for the groundbreaking of a meat snack company, Jack Links, which plans to create 800 jobs. Sonny Perdue introduced Kemp, describing him as a friend for 20 years.
The swing through David Perdue’s home county highlights the election-year political tensions among Georgia conservatives right now. White Diamond Grill owner Charlie Jay says he’s staying neutral.
“They’re both good friends,” Jay said.
Kemp’s reelection bid faced early headwinds with former President Donald Trump bent on punishing the governor for refusing to help overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Trump has slammed Kemp at every opportunity, touted David Perdue in ads and at a rally and given $500,000 to an anti-Kemp Super PAC.
But with the primary about a month away, new polls show Kemp well ahead of Perdue. The governor had a 57% lead to Perdue’s 27% in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Tuesday, suggesting Kemp may win the GOP nomination without a runoff. The winner will go on to face Democrat Stacey Abrams in the fall.
The governor is in the middle of a bill-signing tour that has so far allowed him to sign into law a permit-less carry bill in front of a Douglasville gun shop, a military retirement income tax exemption near Fort Benning, and a slate of pro-law enforcement bills in Buckhead.
Kemp plans to head to Cumming Thursday to ink several controversial base-pleasing education bills, including one that was quietly changed at the last minute to include a provision that could lead to transgender athletes being banned from playing on public high school girls’ sports teams.
The income tax proposal was a GOP priority this year covered by rising state revenues for now, although it also won over most Democratic lawmakers. Some candidates – like Perdue – have campaigned on the complete elimination of the income tax, which funds half the state’s budget.
“Nothing screams conservative louder than a good old fashioned tax cut,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan at the White Diamond Grill.
But it is unclear when exactly Georgia taxpayers would see the 4.99% rate envisioned in the bill. The rate could take effect as soon as 2029 but may not happen so soon because of the triggers, such as 3% revenue growth, required for additional annual cuts.
“They’re going to see immediate relief with what we did this year, which is what is important,” Kemp told reporters Tuesday. He also trumpeted other forms of short-term relief, such as the suspension of the state gas tax and a one-time refund from a revenue surplus now being processed.
The tax cut is expected to cost at least $1 billion, although analysts are still sizing up the full cost over time. The left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute has put the price tag closer to $2 billion when fully implemented and argues the largest share would go to the top 5% of earners who make more than $250,000 a year.
“The shift to a flat tax structure would weaken the state’s ability to respond to the needs of its residents, while also exacerbating racial and income inequality by widening the gap between the wealthiest and all other Georgians,” said Danny Kanso, GBPI’s senior tax and budget policy analyst.
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