Kemp signs bill giving income tax refund from Georgia surplus

Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation Wednesday that will send tax refunds to Georgians using money from the state's $3.7 billion surplus for fiscal 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation Wednesday that will send tax refunds to Georgians using money from the state's $3.7 billion surplus for fiscal 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday signed legislation to use more than $1 billion in state surplus funds to provide an income tax refund this year.

Under House Bill 1302, which received final passage from the Georgia Senate a week ago, single Georgians would be able to receive a $250 refund when they file their taxes, joint filers $500. The refunds would go to those who filed returns for the tax years 2020 and 2021, and the money would be available in six to eight weeks.

The bill had earlier passed the House.

“When government takes in more than it needs, I believe those dollars should be returned to the taxpayer because that is your money — not the government’s,” Kemp said.

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Aided by a flood of federal COVID-19 relief money, the state’s economy had a strong recovery last year from a brief pandemic recession in 2020.

The state ended fiscal 2021 with a $3.7 billion surplus, and part of the leftover money went into the government’s savings account. But Kemp, who is up for reelection this year, also promised to return some of the surplus to taxpayers.

House and Senate leaders included $1.6 billion for the refund in their midyear budget that Kemp signed last week. However, a state fiscal report earlier this month said that the cost would be closer to $1.1 billion.

Democrats have said Kemp, a Republican, has glossed over the fact that the surplus was built, in part, on federal aid that went for everything from enhanced unemployment checks and child tax credits to housing, health care and business aid.

“Brian Kemp should be thanking President (Joe) Biden and Democrats in Congress for Georgia’s budget surplus, which made these tax refunds possible,” said Max Flugrath, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

“Georgia Democrats are going to make sure every voter knows that while Republicans voted against this boost to Georgia families, President Biden and Democrats delivered,” he said.

Much of the federal aid that helped build the surplus was approved by Congress in 2020, the year before Biden took office and won passage of the American Rescue Plan, which Republicans opposed. The aid approved in 2020 was supported by members of Congress from both parties.

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is running against Kemp in the Republican primary, called the refund an election-year “one-time giveaway” in a tweet after the signing.

“This is exactly what Georgians hate about politics and career politicians,” Perdue said. “When I’m governor, we won’t play these election-year games — we’ll eliminate the state income tax.”

The state income tax brings in more than half of state revenue to fund schools and universities, pave roads, provide public health care and police highways. Perdue, along with some other Republicans running for statewide office, has called for lawmakers to eliminate the income tax, but he has not detailed how he’d balance the state budget without it.