Tax cuts, tackling housing issues and touting new investment: Georgia leaders share 2023 vision
As Gov. Brian Kemp took the stage at the Georgia Chamber's annual "Eggs & Issues" breakfast Wednesday, the song "We Are The Champions" accompanied a montage of University of Georgia's national championship victory this week. But the second-term governor had other reason to celebrate, too.
Local, state and federal partners had just announced that solar manufacturer Qcells was making a massive $2.5 billion expansion into its Georgia operations. Already the largest solar manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere, Qcells is bringing an estimated 2,500 new jobs, the country's largest-ever investment in solar manufacturing and growing the state's prominence in the renewable energy sector.
Kemp told the crowded ballroom of movers and shakers in the business and political worlds that he would work the next four years to continue bringing major investments to the state — especially rural Georgia — by championing conservative economic policies that have helped make the state attractive for industries and employees to flock here in recent years.
"I mean, look, these projects don't happen unless we have a local state partnership — and we've created 130,000 new jobs in four years: almost $50 billion of investment that's come," he said.
Kemp also said his budget proposal for the next fiscal year would use some of the state's multi-billion dollar surplus to backfill money for transportation and infrastructure projects after Georgia suspended its gas tax for several months and call for another $1 billion in tax rebates followed by $1 billion in one-time property tax relief that could save homeowners several hundred dollars.
"60% of Americans right now are living paycheck to paycheck, so when you get something like that that happens it really puts a burden on hard working Georgians out there," he said.
The governor also mentioned a desire to address shortages in affordable workforce housing, an issue that will only be exacerbated as major companies and developments continue to move into the state.
"I have been a local control governor, and I understand that, but you you can't have our treasures and our input and our commitment to helping create jobs in your community, but then not have places to live or be restrictive," he said. "We want people to live in a community where they're working: Tt cuts down on their logistics, it cuts down on our need for infrastructure, and it just quite honestly makes for a better quality of life."
While not offering specifics ahead of his inauguration Thursday, Kemp said he wanted to work collaboratively with the legislature and local governments to figure out a solution that isn't the state mandating what communities can or cannot do.
The optimism around Georgia's continued economic growth is also a collaborative, bipartisan endeavor and reflective of the state's rising prominence politically and economically.
Claims for credit for the growth is bipartisan, too.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden issued a statement touting the Qcells expansion as a direct result of the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year, noting that many of the jobs won't require a four-year degree.
"It will bring back our supply chains so we aren’t reliant on other countries, lower the cost of clean energy, and help us combat the climate crisis," Biden said. "And it will ensure that we manufacture cutting-edge, solar technology here at home. It’s a win for workers, consumers, and our climate."
Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff credited the investment as a byproduct of the Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Act, legislation they shepherded which incentivizes companies to build up the solar supply chain in the United States to decrease reliance on Chinese imports.
“I’ve always believed we must create a future that is both ecologically and economically sustainable," Warnock said. "We cannot have one without the other… So, I was proud to lead months of close collaboration between Qcells, Senate leadership, and this administration.”
Ossoff said in a statement the announcement was part of his goal to make Georgia a leader in advanced energy production.
"That’s why I wrote and passed major legislation to bring more solar manufacturing jobs to our state, and today secured the largest clean energy manufacturing project in American history, with thousands of solar jobs and billions of dollars on the way to Georgia,” he said.
At the Eggs & Issues event, Georgia's new House Speaker and lieutenant governor shared their priorities for the year and how it interacts with the business community.
Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington) said he looks forward to "continued progress" on economic issues and announced a new committee overseeing health care while incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones focused on ways to potentially reduce crime and expand access to the workforce that does not require going to college.
"I think we need, No. 1, to put an emphasis on the fact that you need to be in a profession you enjoy and not feel like that to be successful, you've got to have a four-year degree in college," he said. "Because to be successful nowadays, all you've got to do is have a work ethic and have a skill set and a person can do very well with that."
This year is the first of the two-year legislative session cycle, so all bills are starting from scratch. Much of the 40-working-day session that will run through March 29 is expected to focus on the state's budget.