The Jolt: Last-minute change to COVID bill prohibits Georgia from using aid to cut taxes

Moments before Gov. Brian Kemp outlined an expansion of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine criteria, he used his time before a bank of cameras to rail against the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan that passed Congress on Wednesday.

Beyond his accusation that the direct aid payments shortchanged Georgia, the governor vented that the legislation also bars states from using the funding to slash taxes.

“You heard that right: Democrats in Washington are now telling states they can’t cut taxes, create new incentives that attract investment, or expand and incentivize school choice,” he said.

“But bloated spending, special interest pork, a long list of liberal pet projects, and bailing out the states who poorly managed their economies are all fine by Washington standards.”

It’s a reference to a provision in the measure added by the Senate that tightened guidelines for how states and local governments can use the $350 billion in direct aid. States can use the money to provide government services, cover revenue losses during the crisis, hire back employees, respond to the public health emergency and deal with the economic fallout.

The Senate amendment specifically says states can’t use the funding to “directly or indirectly offset a reduction” in net tax revenue during the emergency.

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Since the Georgia House has already passed an income tax cut this year to the tune of $120 million, we heard quickly from state House Speaker David Ralston about the new restrictions tying legislators’ hands. He sent a letter to the Georgia delegation in Washington alerting them to the conflict before Wednesday morning’s final vote, but by then it was too late for changes.

The Georgia delegation split again along party lines with all Democrats in favor of the relief bill and all Republicans against it. Ralston has since taken his request to the next level with President Joe Biden.

“In Georgia, we have prioritized providing tax relief to our citizens and H.R. 1319 appears to prohibit that relief,” the speaker wrote to Biden. “I pray that you will prevail upon Congress to have this flaw in the legislation corrected before signing it into law.”

Ralston signed off with a cordial, “Thank you for your service to our nation and its citizens.”

Biden has already said he will sign the bill on Friday.

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Expect to hear from Georgia Democrats a lot about this coronavirus relief package and what it will do for businesses, families and local governments. The Democratic congressional delegation took a victory lap even before the final vote, gathering for their first joint press conference of the year.

They also will continue to play up the state’s role in making it happen by helping Biden win the presidency and flipping control of the U.S. Senate. Congresswoman Nikema Williams’ impact as chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia earned her a shout-out when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer held a ceremonial signing of the bill Wednesday.

“I do want to acknowledge Nikema Williams, who is here, because in some ways she made today possible,” Pelosi said.

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The left-leaning Progressive Change Institute is out with a poll that showed strong support for federal legislation to strengthen voting rights.

The poll, conducted by ALG Research, found that 57% of Georgia voters support the federal proposal to bolster the Voting Rights Act. And 78% back the For The People Act, a package of elections, redistricting and campaign finance overhauls.

It also found that two-thirds of Georgia voters support giving workers paid time off to vote.

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Under the Gold Dome (Legislative Day 31):

  • 7:30 am: House and Senate committee meetings begin;
  • 10:00 am: The House convenes;
  • 10:00 am: The Senate convenes.

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Doug Shipman, the former CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center and the founding CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, has filed his paperwork to run for Atlanta City Council president.

We’re told former state Sen. Vincent Fort, who ran for mayor in 2017, is also interested in the seat.

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Audio of a late December phone call between then-President Donald Trump and the Secretary of State’s chief investigator has surely landed in the lap of Fulton County’s D.A. by now.

There had already been news reports about the call Trump placed to Frances Watson in late December. It was described as a prelude to the much more explosive conversation Trump had with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to obtain a recording of the six-minute exchange with Watson, which came out on Wednesday. The folks at Channel 2 Action put the audio online, where you can hear Trump falsely state that he won Georgia.

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Four of the five living former U.S. presidents — everyone but Donald Trump — have partnered for a national campaign intended to increase trust in the COVID-19 vaccination. The oldest of them, of course, is Georgia’s Jimmy Carter.

Polls show that white Republicans are among the most vaccine-hesitant groups, influenced by distrust of government and the new drugs. Black Americans have also expressed concern about trusting these new vaccines, and equitable access is also a barrier in many communities.

Click here to watch their first PSA, which features the actual vaccinations of former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Carter, along with former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Rosalynn Carter.

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