As a step toward cutting taxes, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp proposes to put a cap on state spending, adjusted to population growth and inflation, if he is elected governor.
The spending cap and advocacy for high-speed internet in rural parts of the state were two relatively specific ideas Kemp shared in remarks to the Statesboro Board of Realtors earlier this week. He talked in more general terms about regulatory reform and support for small businesses. But the first element in Kemp’s four-point campaign, he said, is making Georgia the leading state for small businesses.
Gov. Nathan Deal “has done a great job of getting us to the point of being the number-one state in the country in which to do business, but I feel like we need to build off of that foundation and really go down to helping the small-business people,” Kemp said.
In his second plank, which he described as “fundamentally reforming state government,” Kemp proposes two initiatives, which he said are based on things he accomplished in the Secretary of State’s Office.
“One is implementing a state spending cap where we tie our spending to population and inflation so we’re not overspending in our budgets, we continue to conserve,” Kemp told the local real estate professionals.
“Governor Deal has done a great job of getting us a really good rainy-day fund so we can protect our triple-A bond rating, but now that we have that, if we continue to budget conservatively, we can bank that money and then return it to you all, the taxpayers,” he said.
Exactly how the spending cap would work remains to be fleshed out, Kemp acknowledged in a follow-up interview.
“Well, we’re actually working on the details of that right now, but it will be a simple formula where it’s based on population and inflation, so you set a rate that you’re going to follow every year, so if the population goes up a certain amount, inflation goes up, then that will set your spending levels for that year,” he said.
The cap would include an override provision for responding to a crisis, but the override would require a vote by a substantial majority in the Legislature, he said.
Kemp proposes this flexible spending cap as the first step to a broad-based tax cut.
“The last several years everybody talks about taxes, there’s a lot of people talking about taxes in the governor’s race, and the only people that have gotten tax breaks are people that have a lobbyist or they’re a special interest group,” he said. “Well, to me you all are my special interest group. I want to help every taxpayer. That’s why I want to start with the spending cap.”
The other tack in Kemp’s broader reform plank is a focus on simplifying regulations.
“And that’s really what we’ve done in the Secretary of State’s Office,” he said. “When the budget got tough, we reduced our budget by 25 percent. We had to use technology to make things more efficient where we could literally do more with less.”
Kemp has overseen technological improvements such as simplified online filing of corporate certification renewals. In another change, professional licenses, previously all laminated and mailed, are now in a digital format. Licensees can print these out for themselves or order a formal mailed copy for a higher fee. His agency set up a “Cut red tape” website for suggestions.
The 25 percent spending reduction came during state austerity measures earlier in his tenure. Some of the funding has been restored, but the agency’s spending remains well below where it started, he said.
Kemp is in the third year of his second four-year elected term as secretary of state, after being appointed in early 2010 to complete a term.
As governor, his approach to regulatory reform would be to have “a good group of business people, not bureaucrats” study each agency, but also to get suggestions from the agencies themselves, Kemp said.
He described his third campaign plank as “moving our state forward and really focusing on strengthening rural Georgia.”
Expansion of high-speed internet in rural areas “can help with innovation on the family farm or agribusiness …, with rural health care when you think about telemedicine and other ways that we can be more efficient and cut costs, and certainly with education,” Kemp said.
He described his fourth plank as “fighting for working Georgians” instead of “the special interests, the politically correct, those that are here illegally.”
“And that’s nothing against any of those people. It’s just, I’m going to be for you,” Kemp said.
His campaign website associates this “Put Georgia First” element with defunding “sanctuary cities and campuses” and stopping “taxpayer funded subsidies for illegal immigrants.” He wasn’t interviewed about this aspect, but Georgia already has laws, passed in 2009 and 2016, prohibiting cities from serving as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, and a 2017 law attempts to bar colleges from becoming sanctuary campuses.
In the interview Kemp also answered questions about changes in Georgia’s handling of elections, under his purview as secretary of state, and the possibility of replacing voting equipment statewide.
Kemp, 53, describes himself as a lifelong small business owner. He previously owned a real estate investment company in Athens and still owns rental properties and other businesses. He served in the state Senate for four years before becoming secretary of state.
He is one of at least five announced candidates for the Republican nomination for governor heading toward the May 22 party primaries. Others are Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, former state Sen. Hunter Hill, businessman and former Navy SEAL Clay Tippins and state Sen. Michael Williams.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.