Nearly all public school teachers report digging into their pockets to pay for school supplies.
Photo: Maureen Downey/AJC File
Photo: Maureen Downey/AJC File

The Jolt: Brian Kemp digs in his heels over teacher pay raise

Two weeks ago, before the Legislature convened, Speaker David Ralston cast doubt on another teacher pay raise by explaining that neither he nor his House members had any obligations on that score.

“That was not my campaign promise to pay the school teachers an additional sum of money, even though it’s a laudable goal,” he said.

But in a Tuesday interview on GPB’s “Lawmakers,” Gov. Brian Kemp stressed that he did make that commitment, and intended to fulfill it.

Kemp didn’t rule out an election-year push to cut the income tax rate for a second time in three years, but a $2,000-a-year pay bump for teachers makes it more difficult for lawmakers to slash the income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5% this year, as Ralston and some other prominent Republicans would like. Said Kemp:

“That’s something that a lot of legislators have signaled concern with. My priority was the teacher pay raise. That was really my biggest priority, what I campaigned on. I understand where the Legislature is. They took the position on the tax cuts even before I was governor.

“I certainly want to cut taxes. The Georgians First Commission is working right now to see how we can do that….”

As our AJC colleague James Salzer notes, there’s a possibility that lawmakers can find wiggle room in the budget to finance both a teacher pay hike and the tax cut. But it won’t come easily.  

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In the same GPB interview, the governor ruled out dipping into the state’s rainy day fund to fund his budget priorities, saying it would risk the state’s AAA bond rating.

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In a first day of budget hearings before state lawmakers, Governor Kemp said the state has cut tens of millions of dollars in spending by doing things such as consolidating services, cutting overtime and administration, and reducing real estate leases.

“The budget before you shows reducing costs doesn’t require drastic cuts to other agency activities,” Kemp said -- though others disagreed.

Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton, for instance, said his utility regulation agency would require staffers to take five furlough days.

State Rep. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, noted on Twitter that Kemp’s budget increases spending on state prosecutors by more than $3 million -- for the recruitment and retention of assistant district attorneys, and for 12 assistant district attorneys for juvenile courts.

Perhaps it is a coincidence, but the Georgia Public Defender Council is trimmed by more than $3 million. “Is the Governor aware that the criminal justice system is already one-sided? Should we be making it worse?” McLaurin said.

The governor’s people have quickly informed us that while the proposed cut to public defenders was their doing, the proposed increased funding for district attorneys was a decision made by the judicial branch -- over which they have no control.

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Press releases don’t usually strike a nerve. This one does:

Today, the ACLU of Georgia sent a letter to the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office regarding a complaint about an alleged new policy banning the Marietta Daily Journal in the Detention Center. Allegedly, on January 12, 2020, deputies at the Detention Center were ordered to discard Marietta Daily Journal newspapers “to prevent inmates AND staff from seeing the article about the jail.”

We’re not exactly sure which MDJ article is at the heart of this dispute, but this was a headline from Jan. 14: ‘That’s inhuman’: Sheriff, staff deny allegations of cruel and unusual treatment at jail.

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Georgia Right to Life will host its annual protest against the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision making access to abortion a constitutinal right. The event at 11:30 a.m. at Liberty Plaza across from the state Capitol. A one-mile march will follow.

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The Gallup organization tells us that 58% of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the nation's policies on abortion, marking a seven-percentage-point increase from one year ago and a new high. On the flip side, 32% are now satisfied, a new low. But the polling organization says the increased dissatisfaction is being driven by Democrats who think abortion laws are becoming too strict.

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The first day of the U.S. Senate impeachment trial went into the wee hours of the morning.

Much of Tuesday’s proceedings was devoted to attempts by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to find support for amendments that would allow new documents and evidence to be introduced. GOP members voted all of them down.

It happened 11 times in total. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia sided with their GOP compatriots each time. Only one Republican crossed party lines to vote with Democrats -- and it happened only once, when Susan Collins of Maine agreed that each side should be granted additional time to respond to any motions filed. 

Even with Collins’ support, the motion was tabled by a 52-48 vote. The other 10 amendments were voted down by a 53-47 straight party line vote. 

The Senate then took a final vote to approve McConnell’s slate of rules for how the trial will unfold. It allows for 24 hours of opening statements for each side spread over three days, followed by questions and answers. 

The rules were adopted along party lines and the first day of the Senate impeachment trial concluded at 1:50 a.m.

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Posted earlier this morning: An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll has found that only about a quarter of registered voters have a favorable impression of U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican and former financial executive who was appointed to the office by Gov. Brian Kemp in December.

About one-fifth of voters have an unfavorable view of Loeffler and more than half don’t know or refused to answer. Among Republicans, her standing is only slightly improved: About one-third of GOP voters have a positive view of Kemp’s pick and 60% don’t know enough about her to answer.

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Posted last night: House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, is floating a trial balloon to see if Republican supporters of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who is eyeing a challenge to U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, might want to support a move to subject that contest to a May primary, followed by a November general election.

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Neurosurgeon John Cowan of Rome, one of several Republicans piling into the race to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, has sent word that he’s raised $200,000 -- after announcing only 10 days ago. Cowan is making health care a focus of his campaign.

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Former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williams has endorsed Nabilah Islam’s campaign for the Seventh District congressional seat.

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Over at Georgia Health News, Andy Miller reports that the American Chemistry Council, a powerful trade association, is “testing the air in seven Georgia locations to measure ethylene oxide, a toxic gas used for sterilizing medical supplies.”

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