Kemp blasts COVID-19 relief plan; Republican AGs press to kill tax provision

Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday that the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus, which is sending $4.7 billion to the state, is punishing Georgians. "States that needed bailouts are getting more money than Georgians are getting. I appreciate the relief, but I wish it was fair and equitable to our citizens.” (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/TNS)

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Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday that the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus, which is sending $4.7 billion to the state, is punishing Georgians. "States that needed bailouts are getting more money than Georgians are getting. I appreciate the relief, but I wish it was fair and equitable to our citizens.” (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

SAVANNAH — As President Joe Biden heads to Georgia this week as part of a victory lap touting the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, state Republicans are stepping up their attacks on the sweeping package that passed without a single GOP vote in Congress.

At a stop in Savannah on Wednesday, Gov. Brian Kemp said Georgians are getting “punished” by the measure because it relies upon a formula that gives states with robust economies a smaller share of direct aid.

“We’re the losers. Georgians are the losers in this,” he said of the $4.7 billion in direct funding the state is set to receive. “And states that needed bailouts are getting more money than Georgians are getting. I appreciate the relief, but I wish it was fair and equitable to our citizens.”

Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, who like Kemp also faces a tough reelection battle in 2022, opened a new front when he joined 20 other GOP counterparts in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen objecting to restrictions on how the money can be spent.

The group called a late addition made in the U.S. Senate that outlaws the use of the relief money — directly or indirectly — for tax cuts “the greatest invasion of state sovereignty by Congress in the history of our Republic.”

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is tracking the money coming into Georgia from the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package. Journalists from across the newsroom will document how the money is administered and spent, whether it accomplishes its goals and whether it creates any unintended consequences. It is part of our commitment to hold government accountable and show our readers how government action affects their lives. Our journalists work hard to be fair and will follow this complex story as it unfolds in the coming months and years.

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What the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus means for U.S., Georgia

The group said many states have passed or are in the process of passing tax cuts and were doing so before the stimulus package was approved by congressional Democrats.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Wednesday sued the Biden administration, saying the restriction on tax cuts is overly broad.

Though the legislation broadly outlined that the relief money couldn’t be used to cut taxes, Republicans have complained that the language could be interpreted to apply to tax cuts already in the works. Yellen hasn’t publicly commented on that issue.

“It’s disingenuous that their relief package has tax exemptions in it for working families while it’s trying to prevent us from cutting taxes,” Kemp said.

The Georgia Senate is considering two state House-passed measures that could be affected: One would provide a small state income tax cut for those who use the standard deduction when they file. The other would extend a tax credit for those who adopt children out of foster care.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, cited both in a recent letter to Yellen. The Senate Finance Committee approved the income tax cut bill Tuesday. and it is one vote away from going to Kemp’s desk for his signature.

While Republicans slammed parts of the act, Georgia House Democrats rallied at the Statehouse to defend it.

State Rep. Erica Thomas of Austell, one of the chamber’s top-ranking Democrats, said the package would provide help to hundreds of thousands of Georgians behind on rent or mortgages, and millions of people having difficulty paying household bills.

“We want to let our constituency know this act is for you,” Thomas said. “This act is going to help millions of Georgians get back on track.”

House Minority Whip David Wilkerson, D-Austell, said Georgia Republicans should follow Congress’ lead and exclude the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits that millions of Americans received last year during the pandemic from income taxes.

He said such an exclusion in Georgia would save the unemployed about $600 in state income taxes.

“I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to forget about the $60 tax relief they want to do,” he said, referring to the proposed state income tax cut.

Wilkerson called the $60 savings “great.”

“But if you ask most Georgians if they want $60 or $600,” he said, “they are going to say $600.”

Wilkerson, a certified public accountant, added:

“You don’t need to be a CPA to figure that out.”