Gov. Brian Kemp proclaimed this week that, “the State of the State is rock-solid.” Thanks to the hard work that’s been done these past few years, I believe he is right.
Gov. Nathan Deal has left an amazing legacy. For six years in a row, Georgia has been named the “Best State in the Nation to do Business In.” He added a whopping 800,000 jobs and the state now has the lowest unemployment rate since the early 70s. Our AAA Bond Rating (held for 20 years in a row) is second best in the nation, and we were of only five states to keep a AAA status during the Great Recession. Gov. Deal’s criminal justice programs has been ranked the best in the nation and is now being copied by the federal government. He also enacted the largest tax cut in the history of our state. Georgia is now second lowest in the nation in per capita spending, third lowest in state debt, and second lowest in collections per capita.
Georgia is spending more money on roads than any other state. Savannah is the fourth busiest port in the U.S., Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world, and the Atlanta metro has the eighth largest economy in the U.S. Georgia is now the No. 1 location in the world to make movies at a yearly impact of $10 billion. (That figure was only $214 million when the Governor took office.)
Gov. Deal raised Education numbers to the highest they have ever been. For the first time ever, Georgia beats the nation in both the SAT and the ACT, and we’re 13th best in college Advanced Placement tests. Georgia’s graduation rate skyrocketed in his eight years, moving up 18 points (28 percent) to a whopping 82 percent. The HOPE Scholarship remains one of the most generous and best run lottery-driven scholarships in the nation, resulting in Georgia being one of only 3 states in the nation that has 2 universities ranked in the top 20. Governor Deal’s Dual Enrollment and Move-On Ready have been wildly successful and the HOPE Career Grant – serving technical degrees – has an outstanding 99 percent job placement record and is completely FREE for 17 career fields.
Governor Kemp said he will focus on a few first efforts this year. First, he promised to honor our teachers with a $3,000 pay increase that he plans to improve to $5,000. He said he will give each of our 2,294 schools $30,000 this year to make safety improvements, and will also put mental health counselors in every school. He stated that he will work hard to remove gangs from Georgia with a new anti-gang task force. He also promised to tackle healthcare with increased choice and flexibility options to make make it more affordable and accessible. He also mentioned a 2 percent merit increase for state employees.
Opening with words from the Sermon on the Mount, the new Governor recalled the parable of the two houses: one built on sand and the other on the rock. “This story always resonated with me. You have to pour concrete before you can frame a house. You must build on solid ground.” He made a very bipartisan appeal for everyone to work together, asking everyone one to “grab a hammer and a handful of nails” to improve the lives of our fellow citizens.
“My fellow Georgians,” he said in his closing, “It’s time to build.”
Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.