The Gainesville Times spoke by phone with both candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor. These answers are in their own words. The two will be on the ballot in the primary runoff July 24.
How should the state invest its increasing tax revenue, and what is your general view on state government spending?
Brian Kemp: I want to implement a spending cap that is tied to population and inflation, so we can reduce spending, budget conservatively, while properly funding the things that we should in state government, like education, public safety, transportation, infrastructure, health care and so on.
Casey Cagle: I want to see our (state income) tax rate below 5 percent. ... I want to do that in four years. We can do a portion of that through the increased revenue spending that we currently have. I want to put zero-base budgeting in place where every agency is going to program their core competencies in a way that is focused on outcomes, and then we budget accordingly to that … It’s a combination of cutting taxes and it’s also a combination of funding the core competencies of education and public safety as well as transportation.
Would you cut the income tax further as governor if it meant a true reduction in state revenue, and not just the reduction of a windfall?
Kemp: Yes, that is the plan. We should offset any windfall the state is getting. … The state should absolutely offset that dollar for dollar and give that back to the people of Georgia. I believe by budgeting conservative in the future and controlling and reducing spending, we can further lower the rates than what’s already been proposed, and I am going to be working on that as governor.
Cagle: My plan is to move us to under 5 percent within the four years of my first administration.
Would you commit to fully funding the QBE formula for education if you were elected and for every year that you would serve in office?
Kemp: We’d commit to fully funding QBE. It’s fully funded now, thankfully. It took a very long time to do that. But I also think we need to redo the funding formula. It’s very inequitable for a lot of different districts. ... The formula is very old. It needs to be brought up to today’s standard, and I personally think that we need to include the state school superintendent, who is the elected leader for education in the state per the Constitution, to be involved in that process. I don’t know that anyone knows that better than he does, so that would be something I look forward to working with him on.
Cagle: We fully funded QBE this year, and it was a huge priority of not just the governor’s but also of mine. I believe undeniably that as governor, we have to adequately fund our K-12 education. I’m going to be committed to spending the resources necessary to improve our public education, along with getting our teacher salaries back up to the national average. Sadly enough, those have fallen. We have a teacher shortage now. Our schools are challenged to find enough teachers to teach in their schools. ... The QBE formula is certainly outdated. It needs to really be restructured, and I am committed to doing that.
What are your thoughts on Georgia’s reforms to the gas tax system?
Kemp: There was a transportation bill that was passed years ago that is funding a lot of the infrastructure improvements in the future.
Cagle: Obviously we are going to have to make significant investments in our infrastructure. Georgia is expected to grow by 4 million people in less than 15 years, and so to sustain the growth that we currently have but also building upon the future, we will have to have even more revenue available to invest in our roads. Many of our communities are doing T-SPLOST (transportation sales tax). ... Typically, overwhelmingly they are voting to tax themselves in order to improve transportation.
What are your thoughts on the state’s ongoing “water wars?” Would you seek funds to expand state reservoirs?
Kemp: My goal there is to put Georgians first and fight hard to protect our water resources in our state, including Lake Lanier that is so critical to the Northeast Georgia area, certainly Hall County and those surrounding where the lake is, not only there but all of Georgia when you think about our farmers. We have to have a governor who will fight for us on that, and I will certainly do that, and I will continue to fund the litigation as long as it makes sense for Georgians, and I believe we’ll be victorious at the end of the day on that. As far as additional reservoirs, I’d be open to that in the future to continue to have the water resources we need, but I would look at that on a case-by-case basis when I become governor.
Cagle: The real solution, No. 1, is to win in court, and I will be a governor that will continue to put the resources there and to ensure that we do win … If we can capture more of our rainfall and use it in a responsible way, we can take care of our needs well into the future. So reservoirs have to be a solution, and I’ll be committed to doing so.
Both candidates also noted that the state’s water management has reduced water use. Both candidates commented on the Glades reservoir, a proposed project in North Hall.
Kemp: I know that’s been in the pipeline for a long time and has run into issues, and quite honestly, I’m not sure where that stands right now and what the hurdles would be to get that done and whether it would be good to do it anyway.
Cagle: I’m very supportive, clearly, of Glades Farm Reservoir, and we just have to find the right solution that federal partners and our local partners can come to the table and agree upon.
What about “constitutional carry”? Would you sign a bill that allowed Georgians to carry a firearm concealed without a permit and application process?
Kemp: I’m certainly supportive of constitutional carry. I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I hunt, I shoot and I carry. I think we need to have a governor that will continue to get more access for the Second Amendment, and I will do that as governor. The way that is done is something that will have to come through the legislative process and will need to be reviewed and see how that looks in regards to federal legislation. I’m certainly open to doing that.
Cagle: Yes ... I think our Constitution does clearly protect individuals or gives individuals a constitutional right to carry. It’s not predicated on government making that decision, it’s an individual decision that people should be allowed to make.
What is your plan for Georgia’s overburdened foster care system?
Kemp: I’ve got a detailed plan on my website that you can check out for adoption reform, so I think that’s one of the things we need to start with, is streamlining that process.
Cagle supported the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act, which allows parents in crisis to give temporary guardianship to a friend, family member or other trusted adult for up to a year.
Cagle: There are a tremendous amount of not-for-profit organizations that are out there that need or desire a streamlined process that is not so bureaucratic, so this bill will allow for a much more seamless way for kids to be able to be in loving families.
Both Cagle and Kemp said they support increasing the adoption tax credit to make adoption more affordable.
Should the state take over the Atlanta airport?
Kemp: I wouldn’t go that far. I think certainly there is definitely corruption at the airport that needs to be cleaned up. How you do that is a bigger question. I’m certainly open to studying that and looking into it.
Cagle appointed a study committee of state legislators in June who will look at the state’s role in airport operations. He said the study committee’s findings would help him make a decision.
Cagle: I do think there needs to be greater oversight. There’s been a number of corruption allegations that have been brought forth, and that’s why we took the action in which we did. I will wait on the study committee to do its work and have the findings and analyze it accordingly.
Why are you a better choice for the Republican nomination based on your policy positions?
Kemp: I think if you look at my conservative four-point plan, making Georgia No. 1 for small business by taking a chain saw to government regulations; reforming the way state government spends taxes and operates so we can implement a spending cap and lower state income tax rates; making sure that no matter what your ZIP code is, you have the same opportunities as anyone else in this state — access to high-speed internet, good quality health care, good quality education and economic opportunities; and good infrastructure in your local community. And I have plans to do that, especially concerning strengthening rural Georgia. Lastly, we need a governor that will put Georgians first and keep them safe. I have two detailed plans to do public safety reform, tracking and reporting criminal illegals and stopping and dismantling gangs in our state.
Cagle: (I am) a lieutenant governor who has cut taxes, a lieutenant governor who has outlawed sanctuary cities, a lieutenant governor who has passed the strongest illegal immigration bills in the country, a lieutenant governor who has created 46 college and career academies across the state of Georgia. ... (I have) been committed to educational reforms like the charter system. ... It’s a record of accomplishments that absolutely have improved the lives of citizens in our state.