Capitol Recap: Kemp opens door to boost in spending

Gov. Brian Kemp in budget instructions for the upcoming year, told state agencies that they can make requests to increase their spending by up to 3%. Kemp will use their requests to help produce the budget he'll give to the state Legislature. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Gov. Brian Kemp in budget instructions for the upcoming year, told state agencies that they can make requests to increase their spending by up to 3%. Kemp will use their requests to help produce the budget he'll give to the state Legislature. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Governor tells agencies they can seek 3% increases in their budgets for next year

When Gov. Brian Kemp cut more than $240 million in spending from this year’s state budget, he cited as one of the reasons what he saw as an uncertain economy.

Perhaps he sees more certainty now after telling state agencies this past week that they can request 3% increases in spending for the coming year.

That’s a departure from standard practice for Kemp, who called for zero growth in last year’s budget instructions — as he did in previous years — even though the state had just posted a surplus of more than $6 billion. In the end, the budget that lawmakers approved and Kemp signed into law for fiscal 2024 increased spending by more than $2 billion.

Now, the state has realized a third consecutive big surplus for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

There have been some signs that the state’s money situation could grow tighter. Tax revenue growth has slowed in recent months, and the initial phase of a cut in the state income tax rate that lawmakers passed in 2022 is kicking in.

But Kemp’s new budget director, Richard Dunn, said in a note to agency leaders that “Georgia’s economy has continued to exceed expectations as businesses flock to the Peach State to take advantage of our strategic location, robust transportation infrastructure, world class workforce and business friendly environment.”

“For state government,” he wrote, “this has meant stronger than anticipated revenues, enabling the state to make strategic economic and infrastructure investments to support future growth over the last two years while still providing more than $3 billion in tax relief.”

Spending was certain to grow in some areas, such as education and health care programs that receive funding based on enrollment. For example, if a college enrolls more students than in the previous year, it receives more money from the state to educate them.

This time, however, Dunn has told other agencies that they, too, can seek increases in funding. They also were told they could ask for one-time investments — such as new facilities or operating systems — that would almost certainly take the increase in state spending over $1 billion.

State agencies will now draw up their budget plans and send them to the governor. Kemp will then use those submissions to build the budget proposal he will present to the General Assembly in January.

While the agencies are expected to see more cash, so are most taxpayers. Kemp is expected to use a share of the surplus — still undetermined in size but projected to be somewhere in the range of $5 billion — for another round of rebates like the ones taxpayers received the past two years.

This year, for example, checks of $250-$500 went to taxpayers depending on how they filed.

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston is one of four district attorneys to file a lawsuit seeking to block a state commission that could oversee and punish prosecutors. (Katelyn Myrick/

Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

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Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

DAs take aim at GOP-backed oversight panel in lawsuit

Four district attorneys filed a lawsuit this past week seeking to block a panel to oversee and punish local prosecutors accused of neglecting their duties.

Senate Bill 92, the law creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, was one of several measures Republicans passed this year that focused on public safety.

Gov. Brian Kemp, when he signed SB 92 into law, declared that “far-left prosecutors are making our communities less safe.”

Opponents call the law a power grab that threatens the independence of the judiciary. They say it targets district attorneys who promised not to charge low-level drug offenders, enforce the state’s anti-abortion law or take “punitive approaches” to criminal justice.

“It’s of vital importance for district attorneys to have both independence and discretion,” said DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, a Democrat and one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

The other plaintiffs in the suit are Democratic District Attorney Flynn Broady of Cobb County; Democratic District Attorney Jared Williams of Augusta; and Republican District Attorney Jonathan Adams, the top prosecutor in Butts, Lamar and Monroe counties.

The law allows the commission to sanction or remove district attorneys for a number of causes, such as “willful misconduct” or “persistent failure” to follow the law. The plaintiffs argue that the “vague nature” of the law leaves prosecutors uncertain how to instruct their staff to comply.

Legislators already had the ability to impeach district attorneys before SB 92 became law, though they rarely exercised that power. Prosecutors also face other checks encoded in state law, and election and recall provisions give voters the ability to remove them at the ballot box.

Adams said district attorneys “have a right and a need to make hard decisions regarding what is appropriate to prosecute.”

He said that bringing low-level marijuana cases to court is “rarely worth the necessary resources” because so many prospective jurors in his area oppose the crackdown.

But under the new law, Adams said he could be disciplined for his stance.

He also warned his fellow Republicans that the law could one day be used against them.

“Today, we may have conservatives and Republicans in the Governor’s Mansion and the Legislature,” he said. “But in five or 10 years, we may not. And what kind of laws may be passed then that may not best suit small rural communities?”

The commission is set to start taking complaints in October.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has told friends and supporters that he intends to run for governor in 2026. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Carr makes early moves toward 2026 bid for governor

Georgia’s next election for governor is more than three years away, but state Attorney General Chris Carr sees no reason to wait in getting started on his bid for the job.

Carr has told friends and prospective supporters that he’s now working to line up grassroots advocates.

Possibly of more importance — following an election last year that saw Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams combine to raise nearly $200 million — he has started courting donors.

Fundraising could be key for Carr. Other big-name Republicans thought to be eyeing the Governor’s Mansion include Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who all have significant personal financial resources. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter of Pooler is also a possible contender, although he may opt for a Senate run.

Democrats who could make a bid for the state’s top job include Abrams, who hasn’t ruled out a third run after losing twice to Kemp; Jason Carter, the party’s nominee for governor in 2014; former state Sen. Jen Jordan, who lost to Carr in November’s AG race; U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond.

Carr didn’t dispute that he plans to run for governor, instead, saying through a spokesman the kind of thing candidates say when they aren’t ready to publicly announce they’re running.

“Right now, Attorney General Carr’s sole focus is on beating Joe Biden in Georgia and keeping the Republican majorities in the General Assembly,” said Heath Garrett, one of Carr’s top advisers.

Carr has remained loyal to Kemp (who cannot run for a third term) even after then-President Donald Trump turned on the governor for refusing to illegally help overturn the 2020 presidential election.

His resume includes working as a top aide to then-U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (His wife, Joan Kirchner Carr, also served as a chief of staff to Isakson). In 2013, then-Gov. Nathan Deal named Chris Carr his economic development commissioner.

In 2016, following Sam Olens’ resignation as attorney general to become the president of Kennesaw State University, Deal picked Carr to fill the opening.

Last year, before he defeated Jordan, Carr beat back a Trump-endorsed challenge from attorney John Gordon, who waged a far-right campaign in the GOP primary based on lies that Trump won the election in Georgia.

Six GOP presidential hopefuls in lineup for Gathering; Trump isn’t one of them

Donald Trump leads in the polls for the Republican nomination for president, but that’s not enough to get him on the guest list for the sold-out Gathering this month in Atlanta.

Six contenders for the GOP nomination — former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, executive Vivek Ramaswamy and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott — are all set to appear at the Gathering, a three-day conference that Erick Erickson has arranged.

Others set to appear at the conference Aug. 17-19 include U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jodi Ernst of Iowa, and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

A Georgia contingent will feature former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Cole Muzio of the Norcross-based Frontline Policy Action group and Gov. Brian Kemp, who is serving as a co-host.

Erickson, a News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB talk show host, announced the lineup this past week. He staged a similar event in 2015 called the RedState Gathering that drew 10 Republican presidential candidates.

Trump didn’t make it to that one, either. Erickson rescinded Trump’s invitation after he made derogatory comments about then-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who hit him with some hard questions during a GOP debate.

Some of the former president’s supporters could make an appearance.

Ultraconservative activist Debbie Dooley is calling for a pro-Trump demonstration at the conference. She also aimed some venom in the direction of Kemp, no longer a favorite in Trump circles after he refused to help overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

“Word is Kemp plans on running for Senate in 2026 and he wants to stop Trump from winning in 2024,” Dooley wrote. “He will have GOP opposition. Don’t forget Kemp’s betrayal in 2026.”

Latest disclosure from Kemp PAC hints at plans for the future

Gov. Brian Kemp, perhaps offering a glimpse at his plans for the future, transferred $500,000 from his state leadership committee to his federal political action committee, according to its recent financial disclosure.

Kemp last year used the leadership committee — a tool that has allowed him to raise unlimited amounts of cash, even when the Legislature is in session and special interests are looking for help to either ensure a bill lives or stops dead in its tracks — to raise more than $50.4 million to help him win reelection in his battle with well-funded Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Now that he’s gone as far as he can at the state level — he can’t seek a third term as governor — he may be exploring options at the federal level.

Kemp could choose to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff in 2026.

Boosting his federal PAC — which finished June with $250,000 — also gives Kemp an opportunity to help shape the political landscape in 2024.

Kemp has downplayed talk of running for president next year, saying last month that “there’s a lot of good people running for president right now on the Republican side.”

But he could be interested in running for vice president, especially if Republicans pick somebody other than former President Donald Trump to head their ticket.

Or he might be looking for an opportunity to build up goodwill by spreading some of that cash around to help Republicans in 2024 recapture Georgia, which is expected to be one of the few true presidential battlegrounds. In return, party bigwigs could come to his aid if he makes a run against Ossoff.

Another item in the disclosure reinforces that point as a source of motivation.

The largest expenditure was $100,000 to Erick Erickson, the conservative talk show host on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB, to co-host the Gathering, which is set to bring in at least six White House hopefuls later this month.

The State Election Board this past week voted to dismiss a complaint against a political action committee that supported Republican Herschel Walker's bid for the U.S. Senate in 2022. The PAC, 34N22, had been accused of vote-buying after it provided $25 gift cards to voters while asking them to consider casting their ballots for Walker. The board still found the practice "troubling," in the words of its chairman, and sent a letter to 34N22 admonishing it to act appropriately. (Arvin Temkar /


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State Election Board dismisses gift card complaint against Walker-backing PAC

Members of the State Election Board raised concerns about a program that offered $25 gift cards to voters last year as a way to support Republican Herschel Walker’s failed bid for the U.S. Senate, but they voted unanimously to dismiss a complaint against it.

The board did vote to send a letter admonishing 34N22, the political action committee that operated the giveaways, to act appropriately.

Board Chairman Bill Duffey called it “troubling” that the PAC staged events at gas stations and grocery stores where it handed out gift cards and asked recipients which candidate they supported and whether they’d consider voting for Walker.

The giveaways — which took place in Atlanta, Jeffersonville, Macon, Preston, Savannah and Washington — were deemed legal and not considered vote-buying because anyone who showed up received a card — including at least one voter who supported Walker’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Georgia law bars payments or gifts in exchange for voting, registering to vote or voting for a specific candidate.

“We made clear that the vouchers were available to anyone on a first-come, first-served basis, and they were not conditioned on anything,” said Tippi Burch, an attorney for 34N22. “34N22 did encourage people to vote for our candidate, but we did not condition the vouchers or cards on that.”

Board member Matt Mashburn said he doesn’t want groups or candidates to think they can use gifts to secure votes.

“I think it’s fair to say, this is as close to that line as we want anybody to ever get,” Mashburn said.

Political expedience

  • Scott to run again: Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott of Atlanta, countering a report in Politico, said he will seek a 12th term in Congress in 2024. Scott raised $156,386 between April and June, according to his latest campaign finance disclosure, and has more than $780,000 in cash on hand. Politico reported that Scott was being sidestepped on farming issues despite being the top-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. Scott, who represents the 13th Congressional District, says he remains focused on renewing the Farm Bill, protecting funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and ensuring Republicans are unable to put in place new requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as food stamps.
  • Deadline for veterans: Veterans who were exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange or other toxic substances have until Wednesday to apply for backdated health care benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs under the PACT Act that Congress passed last year.