By Jill Nolin, CNHI State Reporter
ATHENS – Georgia’s incoming governor, Republican Brian Kemp, sought to unify state lawmakers in his first major speech since narrowly winning the bitterly fought contest last month.
“I know that we were all not on the same team in the primary, the runoff or even the general election,” Kemp said to lawmakers, state officials and lobbyists gathered at the University of Georgia’s campus for training ahead of next month’s legislative session.
“But the campaign is over. It is time to put politics behind us. It is time to shed labels and work together as Georgians,” Kemp said.
Kemp did not elaborate on his policy proposals, but he did renew his call to expand a tax credit benefiting the state’s smallest hospitals, address the physician shortage in rural Georgia and boost the struggling local economies in some of the sparsely populated corners of the state.
“The rising tide in Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah has not lifted our rural communities. Some continue to struggle and in some areas it feels like they’re still in the Great Recession,” he said.
He stuck to mostly bipartisan issues while vowing to press forward with campaign promises such as tax cuts and government regulations, a pay bump for school teachers, measures to crack down on gangs and funding for school security and counselors.
“We know that mental health is the root of school violence. Let’s address this before the tragedy strikes,” Kemp said. “Our classrooms are for raising the next generation of Georgia leaders, not a hunting ground for school shooters.”
Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, said he was encouraged by the focus on teacher pay, but said the $5,000 salary bumps that Kemp proposed during his campaign isn’t enough.
Likewise, Henson said expanding the rural hospital tax credit, which enables eligible hospitals to raise up to $4 million a year in donations, fails to address the high number of uninsured and under insured patients straining these hospitals. He noted that talk of a Medicaid waiver might progress under Kemp.
“There’s a lot of areas that we need to work with him on. The best thing today was that he was telling us that he was willing to listen to us,” Henson said.
Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.