Republican Brian Kemp rolled out a proposal Wednesday to eliminate the state income tax on retirement pay for military veterans and expand a network of career training centers to 22 tech college campuses across the state.
The secretary of state’s initiative, which he said would cost roughly $60 million, comes as he’s trying to appeal to a broader audience in his bid for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams.
In the past week, he's unveiled a sunny TV spot that departed from his edgier, more provocative ads that helped fuel his GOP runoff victory. And he tried to calm business leaders worried about his support for "religious liberty" legislation by threatening to veto anything that deviates from a federal statute.
The military initiative was another attempt in that direction. Surrounded by supporters at his campaign office, Kemp said he’s tired of hearing stories about retiring veterans bolting for neighboring states because of more generous tax benefits. Many of those veterans, he added, are likely to start second careers that can help replenish the state’s coffers.
“This is doable. We can find that money through efficiencies in the budget,” Kemp said. “You’ve got to ask the question: ‘What do we lose by not doing this?’ Everywhere we go, we’re hearing that there aren’t enough good qualified workers.”
Abrams has unveiled initiatives geared to help homeless veterans and target predatory lending. Another part of her pitch involves new resources to help improve the transition from military service to schools and careers, mirroring legislation she helped pass when she was the state House's top Democrat.
Both candidates have also pledged to protect the state’s military installations ahead of the Pentagon’s next review. The state’s military industry supports an estimated 327,000 jobs that create a $19 billion annual impact.
There are roughly 800,000 veterans in Georgia, and the traditionally Republican-leaning bloc makes up an important share of the state’s electorate. With no veterans on the November ballot, both candidates have relied on surrogates to help make their case.
The Republican’s tax-cut plan echoes a similar proposal outlined by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle during the runoff, and Kemp said it was sharpened by a coalition of veterans who serve as informal advisers.
Among them is state Rep. Dave Belton, a veteran U.S. Navy aviator and chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee. He said state legislators have long mulled a similar proposal, and he predicted that the additional tax revenue they generate will offset the cost of the tax cuts.
“We’re tired of seeing veterans leave to South Carolina or Tennessee or Florida,” he said. “Many of them have second careers, and it’s time to do something to keep them here.”
It's a busy election year, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is keeping the spotlight on the leading candidates for governor, Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. Stories we've done include a look at Kemp's fundraising among industries he regulates and Abrams' tax difficulties. Look for more at ajc.com/politics as the state heads for the general election on Nov. 6.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution