ATLANTA — UPDATE:
Democrat and governor hopeful Stacey Abrams gave her economic plan Tuesday night in front of business owners at Atlantucky Brewery in Atlanta.
The small businesses were chosen, as it highlights the businesses, Abrams said she wants to help, should she win the November election.
“I’m going to create a small business capital growth fund, that will invest 10 million dollars in small business financing programs that help grow customers and grow commerce,” she said.
But this is just one part of Abrams' economic plan.
"As a tax attorney I know our plan is solid and won’t cost us more than we have," she said in her hour-long address.
Abrams wants to use the state’s $5 billion dollar surplus to:
- Finance a $1 billion dollar tax refund
- Generate 20,000 apprenticeships in agriculture and technology
- Create up to 40,000 green energy jobs
- Raise teachers starting salary to $50,000
- Pour $500 million dollars into affordable housing, stop evictions and foreclosures
- Restore free technical college for Georgians
- Launch family farm initiatives for small and micro farms
- Create a farm-to-school initiative
- Expand rural zone tax credit
- Create cluster contracts
- Close the digital divide in rural Georgia
- Tackle veteran homelessness
- Close the racial wealth gap
- Raise wages for law enforcement and raise accountability for police
- Call for a constitutional amendment to allow sports betting and casinos in Georgia
As for the sports betting and casinos, Abrams said the move will allow more money to go into the HOPE scholarship, as well as expand funds for need-based financing.
"Forty percent or more of our college students can’t afford the costs and they experience food and housing insecurity. This will serve as a permanent source of revenue to underwrite access to education," she said.
Expanding Medicaid and mental health services, especially in rural Georgia, was another highlight of her agenda. Abrams even evoked a conversation she had with the family of Brianna Grier.
“Their daughter had a mental health crisis. They wanted an ambulance to take her to safety but there was no ambulance to take her to safety. Law enforcement was the only answer and it ended in tragedy," Abrams said.
Grier died six days after falling from a deputy’s patrol car in Hancock County. It was Grier's story, as well as stories surrounding the state’s abortion ban and gun laws that weaved throughout her speech; elaborating on a narrative that Governor Brian Kemp’s policies are bad for business and Georgians.
As she hopes to become the next governor of Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams will unveil her economic plan focusing on what she calls generational opportunity.
11Alive's Hope Ford sat down with Abrams prior to her announcement.
The top three takeaways for Abrams include investments into Georgia, helping the striving and working class, while also helping keep rural counties from falling behind.
Abrams said she hopes to do all of this, without raising state taxes.
"We have a generational opportunity with $5 billion in surplus to actually invest in Georgia, to invest in rural Georgia, invest in a skilled workforce, invest in our young people, invest in our future," Abrams said.
Growing business in Georgia
The gubernatorial candidate said she would take portions of the state's surplus and create a small business fund, while also investing in a farm-to-school initiative to help grow the state's agricultural future.
"We have an aging population agriculturally, but it's also one in every seven jobs in the state. I want to make certain that we're working with our schools, our technical colleges, and our universities to ensure that we get more young people into the pipeline," she said.
Another portion of her plan includes creating cluster contracts -- or breaking big contracts into smaller ones to allow companies to bid together. This, Abrams explained, would allow small businesses to not only compete with larger companies that already win big contracts but to grow their businesses over time.
Abrams' plan also includes provisions to help close the racial wealth gap in Georgia.
"People of color comprise 48% of the population and yet only generate 12.2% of the business revenue between government and corporate spend," Abrams explained. "If we do not tackle this problem, it will be 100 years before there is parity between communities of color and non-white, non-minority communities in Georgia in terms of business revenue."
Saving rural hospitals, access to health insurance
Medicaid expansion is another topic Abrams would hope to address if elected governor. It's also been a top priority for the Biden administration, as well as an issue tackled by Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock.
"If Georgia expands Medicaid, we will access $3.5 billion every year that we are already entitled to and that we have forfeited for the last eight years under Republican governors, including Gov. Kemp," said Abrams. "If we draw down those dollars, we will be able to save rural hospitals, will be able to get half a million Georgians access to health insurance, which means the rest of us who are currently paying their bills can stop paying for someone else's health care. We will also see 64,000 good-paying jobs across the state."
While inflation is at a 40-year-high and no doubt on many Georgians' minds, Abrams reflected on the possibility of a recession, saying her plan would still work.
"Georgia could afford to lose 21% of its year-over-year budget increase, and we can still afford to do everything I'm saying. And we can afford it because it is planned out so that over four years during the whole the entirety of my term, we build it into the budget, we deliver it and it becomes part of how we live our lives as Georgians."
Responding to Republican criticism
Gov. Brian Kemp as well as other members of the GOP accuse Democrats and Abrams of overspending and radical spending that ultimately has led and will lead to higher costs for Georgians. However, Abrams deflects that notion, calling out Republicans for rejecting much-needed money.
"Brian Kemp railed against them. He declared that he didn't believe in the infrastructure bill. And yet he's taking credit for monies that are going into broadband monies that are helping the Savannah port," she said. "Brian Kemp likes the benefits, but he doesn't want to have responsibility."
Kemp has touted many successes during his tenure, including suspending the state gas tax, tax refunds for Georgians, as well as keeping Georgia open during the early days of the pandemic; a move he credits with saving the film, tourism, and travel industries. Yet, Abrams said it's the business lost under Kemp's time, such as the All-Star Game and Music Midtown, that is hurting the state's economy even more.
"California is offering a $1.65 billion tax incentive to take our entertainment industry away. And people say, well, 'they won't do it because Georgia generates so much money,' we've got to remember the last time Republicans did this -- that's how we got the industry," she said.
"We stole it from, or, we attracted it from Michigan and from North Carolina when Republican governors came in and made decisions that drove the entertainment industry out. Georgia is not immune."
Despite the criticism, Kemp maintains business continues to flock to Georgia and blames the "Biden recession" on Abrams and Democrats.
Abrams maintains she's the only candidate with a strong economic plan for the state and believes she would be able to do it all, without digging into Georgian's pockets.
"We can do all of these things without raising $1 in taxes in the state of Georgia -- and that's the most important piece," she said. "Georgia thrives when we stop with poverty thinking."
Abrams' full economic plan will be streamed through her social media platforms at 6:30 p.m. Her announcement will be live streamed at the top of this story.