Kemp pledges to let Deal take lead in Amazon incentives

Jarrett and Marty Kemp clap Brian Kemp, right, speaks at a Republican "unity rally." Jenna Eason /

Credit: Jenna Eason

Credit: Jenna Eason

Jarrett and Marty Kemp clap Brian Kemp, right, speaks at a Republican "unity rally." Jenna Eason /

The wild race for Georgia governor could get another jolt if Amazon lists Atlanta as a finalist for its second headquarters and lawmakers are summoned to the statehouse to hash out how much public money is on the table to entice the tech giant.

And Brian Kemp, the newly-minted GOP nominee, said he won't try to politicize the high-stakes negotiations that could add billions of dollars in tax benefits to what Gov. Nathan Deal has said is already the biggest incentive package in state history.

The secretary of state said Thursday he was briefed by Deal on the state's Olympics-like pursuit of the $5 billion campus, which could bring as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs to Georgia. And he said he's going to let the governor take the lead.

“I committed to him tonight that I understand there’s only one governor at a time,” he said.

He added: “I’m going to look at anything we’re doing, but I don’t have any control as secretary of state what they’re voting on in the Legislature, whether they’re calling a special session. I trust the governor and the Department of Economic Development to put our best foot forward and make sure we’re getting a good return on our investment.”

The governor said in January he’d call a special session if Amazon narrows its choices to Georgia, which could set up fraught election-year negotiations. The Seattle-based company has said it will select its finalist by the end of the year.

Some lawmakers are wary of the prospect of offering 10-figure awards to a prosperous Fortune 500 giant, while others insist on infrastructure investments and job-training programs as part of the deal.

Kemp has not ruled out high-dollar tax breaks for Amazon, but he's said he wants to review every tax incentive and repeal those that don't "create more economic opportunity than it costs."

Democrat Stacey Abrams, her party's nominee, has called for a "smart combination of tax incentives and purposeful investment" to lure the firm. She said lawmakers should look no further than the state's film tax credit, which has turned Georgia into a Hollywood hub.

At an event Friday highlighting her economic plan, Abrams said the prospect of landing Amazon is “wonderful” but that lawmakers should ensure any package ensures the jobs are high-paying and that the “communities around them benefit from those investments.”

Kemp also addressed his support for "religious liberty" legislation, which could also factor into the state's pursuit of the project. Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a version of the proposal in 2016, and his office has warned that reigniting a contentious debate could jeopardize the state's bid. Abrams also staunchly opposes the measure.

The secretary of state said at Thursday's "unity rally" he won't abandon his pledge to sign the legislation, which he said would help protect people of faith from government intrusion. He said he'd insist on a state version of the federal bill signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

“My position on RFRA is not going to change. I’m not going to change,” he said, using the shorthand for the legislation.

“It’s the same thing that Gov. Deal voted for in Congress. It’s the commonsense thing to do, and I will do that as governor. And I’ll be glad to sit down with any business entity in the state and talk them through that.”

More recent AJC coverage of the Amazon deal: