Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle asserts that having been lieutenant governor through an economic downturn and into a recovery prepares him to lead, as governor, in shaping Georgia’s prosperity through a period of rapid growth.
Cagle stopped by the Statesboro Herald for an interview Thursday afternoon, between campaign stops that included a local fundraiser. He is one of at least five announced Republican candidates for governor on the road to the May 22 party primaries. At least two Democrats and one Libertarian are meanwhile in the race that will end in November 2018.
“For me, it really is about greater economic prosperity,” Cagle said. “Georgia is expected to grow by four and a half million people in less than 15 years, and that’s a big number, and so as governor, I’ve got to shape and plan for that type of growth.”
As lieutenant governor, he has presided over the state Senate through former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s second term and both of Gov. Nathan Deal’s terms. Georgia began experiencing the recession not long after Cagle, who had already served 12 years as a senator, took the lieutenant governor’s chair in 2007. Lawmakers soon had to cut $3 billion in state spending, he recalled.
When faced with a struggling economy, the state government took what Cagle calls “bold steps” including a reduction in taxes on manufacturing that he credits for a 35 percent increase in manufacturing jobs in Georgia.
He also credits tax incentives he helped get passed for the movie industry with boosting it from “a nonexistent industry” in the state to one worth more than $9 billion annually. That figure is an economic impact estimate based on $2.7 billion in direct spending by filmmakers in state fiscal year 2017.
Proposed tax cut
Now, with state revenues growing, he proposes to cut taxes by $100 million in his first 100 days as governor. This would take the form of an increase in the personal exemptions on state income tax.
As an example, for a family of four, including a married couple filing jointly, the first $17,000 of income would then be exempt, he said. On Georgia’s 2016 Form 500, the exemptions for a family of four with this filing status totaled $13,400.
Cagle released a detailed plan in August for the development of broadband internet access in rural areas.
“Our rural communities, many of them are losing population, and I have the opportunity to bring the economic development deals to our state, building-out rural broadband,” he said.
His campaign literature touts a goal of creating 500,000 new jobs in his “first term” as governor. Cagle proposes to take part personally in recruitment efforts to bring companies to Georgia from across the country and the world. Here he said he will place an “economic liaison” in “every state agency,” to streamline permitting processes.
As he notes, Georgia’s employment picture has already improved so that Labor Department statistics show roughly 100,000 job openings statewide. Of those, he said, typically about 25 percent require a four-year college degree, while 75 percent require and industry certification or two-year technical college degree.
“I’m going to be the governor that is going to transform public education in a way that truly does align education with industry needs,” Cagle said. “We’ve done that with our College and Career Academies.”
Cagle led in creating Georgia’s College and Career Academy network. After more than seven years in development, there are 40 academies statewide. These are charter schools involving partnerships of high schools with technical colleges and sometimes other colleges or universities. High school students often graduate with industry certifications and sometimes associate degrees, linked specifically to jobs or to additional college education, he said.
“As governor, my goal is to give every student access to a College and Career Academy no later than 2020,” Cagle said. “And to do that we have to expand dual enrollment, which is a big piece of that puzzle, dual enrollment both through our technical colleges but also through our university system as well.”
Through another education program Cagle led in creating, 30 percent of Georgia’s public school students now attend “charter systems,” he reports. These aren’t individual charter schools, but regular public school districts that enter a contract with the state and receive exemptions from certain regulations in exchange for greater accountability measures.
The Bulloch County Board of Education chose an intermediate option, which Cagle also helped create, becoming a Strategic Waivers School System.
Cagle wrote a book, “Education Unleashed,” published one year ago, about his education reform ideas. Some political critics have assailed his approach for its emphasis on charter schools and similar ideas.
But Cagle, who described himself as a “proven, consistent conservative leader” said he means to strengthen public education and that his approach addresses the problem of poverty in Georgia.
“Georgia has 25 percent of our kids that live in poverty, and we have 40 counties that 40-plus percent poverty rates, 40-plus, and it’s important to say ‘plus’ because some of them are significantly ‘plus,’” he said. “That’s not acceptable to me, and I believe that education is the great equalizer. No matter where you come from, no matter what your circumstances, you can always rise above it.”
The book also tells Cagle’s own story of growing up poor in a single-parent family. After his father left when Cagle was 3, his mother worked two jobs and “never took a dime of public assistance,” he said.
“So I know what it’s like to not necessarily know where your next meal is going to come from,” he said. “I know what it’s like when you don’t have a two-parent family, but I also know that that’s not what defines you.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.