ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp promised to raise teacher and state worker salaries, crack down on gang activity and build up rural communities in his first State of the State Address on Thursday before a joint session of the House and Senate.
“The state of the state is rock solid,” Kemp said, citing rising wages and a low unemployment rate. “We will continue to work with state and local officials and review regulations that make it difficult for companies to hire, expand and invest … to make government more efficient and build a stronger and more diverse economy.”
Kemp said he would give all certified Georgia teachers a $3,000 raise in his new budget proposal – something he called a “down payment” on his campaign promise of raising salaries by $5,000. He also said that state employees would receive a 2 percent merit increase.
11Alive spoke to some of the teachers the pay raise is expected to benefit, who said they were appreciative but remained skeptical.
"Giving teachers more money is what a lot of teachers beg for," said Marlon DeLancy, a social studies teacher at Young Middle School. "But I think that teachers are looking at, a. the source of the income, being the current governor that we have, there may be some teachers that are maybe not supporting him."
"I would also hope though that this much appreciated raise would be handled carefully and thoughtfully, keeping in mind Georgia's other pressing needs," echoed Caitlin Tripp, an AP world history teacher at North Atlanta High School.
Ultimately, though DeLancy said the pay raise would be an incentive for teachers to stay in the field.
Echoing his statements from the Eggs and Issues event on Tuesday, Kemp said his amended budget includes $69 million toward school safety, through a one-time check of $30,000 for every school to use as they wish to bolster security improvements. Kemp also plans to dedicate $8.4 million in additional funding to focus on mental health issues in schools.
“We will hire more professionals to engage with struggling students and provide resources to stop aggressive behavior,” Kemp said. “These people will inspire, mentor and keep our kids safe.”
While giving a nod to former Governor Nathan Deal for his work in criminal justice reform, Kemp promised to give more resources and support to local law enforcement. He introduced a special guest sitting in the gallery – Covington Police officer Matt Cooper, who is recovering after he was shot in the head while chasing a suspect last year.
“Coop – just know, we’re continuing to pray for your recovery,” Kemp said as the crowd turned and gave Cooper a standing ovation.
Kemp read through the names of all six Georgia police officers killed in the line of duty last year, giving a nod to those who “paid the ultimate price.”
“They remain in our thoughts and prayers,” Kemp said. “Their service will never be forgotten, and we will be forever grateful.”
The governor then turned to his plans to dismantle gang activity across the state – offering new numbers from the Georgia Gang Investigators Association. The numbers show over 71,000 active gang members live in Georgia, in over 1,500 suspected gang networks. Kemp promised $500 million to form a new gang task force within the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.
“These cartels are pushing opioids and drugs and selling our children for sex,” Kemp said. “Using our criminal alien database, we will track and deport drug cartel kingpins who are terrorizing our communities.”
Kemp turned his focus to healthcare and discussed his plan to create more flexibility in Georgia’s Medicade program and drive competition through rural hospital tax credits to tackle what he called a “doctor shortage” in rural parts of Georgia.
Throughout the speech, legislators enthusiastically applauded Kemp’s outline for what he called a “stronger and safer Georgia.”
He got emotional while thanking his wife, First Lady Marty Kemp, who sat in amongst the legislators in the seat of her late father, the “good ol’ Southern Democrat” Bob Argo.
“It’s time to pick up that hammer and some nails,” Kemp said as he finished his address. “Let’s build a safer and stronger Georgia.”