Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp greets lawmakers as he leaves the committee room after he addressed state lawmakers on his budget plan on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Jolt: Tensions mount over Kemp’s teacher pay raise plan 

Gov. Brian Kemp didn’t take any questions from lawmakers eager to pin him down on specifics of his budget cuts. So frustrated legislators instead took aim at his top financial adviser. 

That would be Kelly Farr, the governor’s budget director, who had the unenviable job Thursday of being the last of more than a dozen agency heads who detailed plans to slash spending as Kemp touts a $2,000 teacher pay hike. 

Our AJC colleague James Salzer reports that lawmakers had just heard dramatic testimony about the impact of cuts on mental health and addiction services when Farr stepped up to talk about his agency’s spending.

Salzer fills in the rest: 

When lawmakers tried to ask about cuts in other agency budgets, Farr demurred.

“I am here to talk about OPB’s budget. I think the governor did a good job with his proposal the other day and I don’t have anything to add to it,” Farr told lawmakers.

Kemp spoke at the same hearings Tuesday, but he, like past governors, didn’t stick around for questions from lawmakers.

Next Farr was asked about cuts in IT programs. He responded, “I am not going to speak on other commissioners’ budgets. I don’t think that would be appropriate.”

The last question came from Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, who asked if the governor had considered raising the estimate of tax collections for next year to account for new sales tax money coming in from internet- and app-based companies. 

A higher estimate of what lawmakers could spend would allow lawmakers to curb some of the spending cuts. 

Farr told him they hadn’t discussed it and that he would advise against relying on estimates of how much a new tax bill would bring in. After all, he added, “That’s kind of why we are in a little bit of a challenge we are in right now.”

Lawmakers weren’t exactly keen on being reminded that the election-year income tax cut they approved in 2018 is a reason for shaky revenue collections, which in turn helped trigger Kemp to call for the budget cuts they’d heard about for three days.

***

One reason why Gov. Brian Kemp might feel like he has the political capital to spend on teacher pay hikes: His rising poll numbers.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released this week showed about 60% of voters approved of his job performance, compared to roughly one-third who don’t. 

That’s a higher approval rating than any other politician polled in the survey: President Donald Trump, U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins and four leading Democratic candidates for president. 

Among Republicans, his approval ratings verge into Trump territory, with about 85% support. (The president’s approvals among GOPers is at 93%).

But he out-polls both Trump and Perdue among Democrats, with a 35% approval rating. (Perdue is at 27%, Trump a scant 8%).

And roughly 47% of independents give him solid reviews, compared to one-third who don’t. That puts Kemp on par with Perdue and slightly ahead of Trump with the all-important voting bloc.

***

Long-time Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin decided to seek the state Senate seat held by retiring Republican Bill Heath instead of a bid for Georgia’s open 14th Congressional district.

Austin was first elected to lead the Paulding County city in 1995, and he’s the presumed front-runner in the race to represent the west Georgia district. 

He would also have been a formidable U.S. House candidate, but his calculations may have changed when Ben Bullock, the real estate investor, decided to enter the race. Their families have long been close.

*** 

10/14/2019 -- Decatur, Georgia -- DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston speaks during a presser following the verdict for Robert "Chip" Olsen in front of the DeKalb County Courthouse in Decatur, Monday, October 14, 2019. On the sixth day of jury deliberations the jury found Robert "Chip" Olsen not guilty of felony murder. But jurors reached guilty verdicts on four lesser charges: two counts of violation of oath of office, aggravated assault and making a false statement. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

In case you missed it: DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston has decided against running for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s old seat. Instead, she will run for re-election to a second term in her current office.

Boston’s decision comes as Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Rev. Raphael Warnock is preparing to announce a campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was recently appointed to Isakson’s seat.

Meanwhile, Warnock faces a decision about whether to stay on the pulpit. If his last Senate ramp-up is any guide, he will try to pull double duty as a preacher and a politician. 

***

Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren has admitted to removing a local newspaper from a county jail, saying an article critical of his policies was a threat to public safety. 

The AJC’s Kristal Dixon reports more about the controversial decision from the sheriff who is running for re-election:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia issued a press release Wednesday saying it received information that Warren allegedly told jail staff to remove copies of the Jan. 12 edition of the Marietta Daily Journal from the Cobb Adult Detention Center and that the paper had been banned.

The article in that edition of the paper recounts complaints of cruel and inhumane treatment inmates say they have received inside the jail and includes denials from jail officials. An attorney for the ACLU said removing the paper could constitute a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and of the press.

Warren initially denied the ACLU’s accusations that he ordered the article removed, but he later told the Marietta Daily Journal it was not distributed “due to its possible impact on the safety and security of our staff and inmates.”

***

The House impeachment investigation has led to a windfall for political action funds tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Washington Post reported.

In total, those groups raised $68.3 million in 2019. And a big chunk came during the final two months of the year when it became apparent that the House would impeach Trump, setting up a Senate trial.

The amount is a “record sum for a non-election year that reflected donor support for Senate Republicans spurred by impeachment, judicial appointments and the 2020 elections,” the Post reported.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X