Lt. Governor Jones, Speaker Burns, President Pro Tem Kennedy, Speaker Pro Tem Jones, members of the General Assembly, Constitutional Officers, Mayor Dickens, members of the judiciary, members of the consular corps, and my fellow Georgians:
When I delivered my first State of the State address in this chamber four years ago, little did we know the unprecedented challenges that were before us.
Now, on the other side of my first term, we have overcome each of those challenges, together, and we have risen to the occasion each time change has come.
Speaking of change, each chamber has new leadership than when I began my first term, and I want to congratulate Lt. Governor Jones and Speaker Burns again on their elections, along with the newly elected leaders and appointed committee chairs in both the Senate and House. I also want to congratulate my fellow Constitutional Officers on their recent victories.
Over the last four years, our greatest achievements were accomplished when both chambers worked hand-in-hand with my office to put the people of our state first – ahead of the status quo.
Our future as a state relies on that partnership… to do the right thing for our citizens, even when it may not be easy.
Each of you has my commitment to continue that work, together.
That’s good for our entire state… because I believe this session will be one of consequence.
I’m proud to report that because of the foundation we have built, together, over the past four years, because of the resilience shown by the people of Georgia, because of the resolve they continue to show, the state of our state has never been stronger and more resilient!
This session, we will not only build on the monumental achievements of the past four years, we will set Georgia on a path of greatness for generations to come.
This past year in particular was unprecedented for economic success in the Peach State.
In less than 365 days, we announced four of the largest economic development projects in state history. Just those four projects alone will bring over 20,000 new jobs and over $17 billion in investment to rural communities across Georgia.
Those good-paying jobs are in fields that will define the next generation of manufacturing, and that future will be made right here in Georgia.
And we aren’t slowing down.
Just last week, we learned that in the first half of this fiscal year, our top-ranked Department of Economic Development helped to announce 17,500 new jobs and more than $13 billion in investment coming to Georgia.
I’m especially proud that, once again, 85% of those jobs are coming to areas outside metro Atlanta!
And the good news is our metro areas continue to thrive in this environment, with organic growth generated by good policies and a pro-business approach that we have all worked with partners in the private sector to create.
I want to thank the hardworking men and women of the Georgia Department of Economic Development who helped us bring those unparalleled levels of opportunity to communities all across our state!
One member of that team is here with us today. Yoonie Kim serves as Director of Korean Investment, and she’s been instrumental in bringing literally billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to Georgia communities.
Yoonie, will you please stand and let us thank you for that good work?
I also want to thank the General Assembly for their contributions to this effort. I cannot overstate how critical your support is when it comes to winning in these competitive environments, while also providing a good return on investment.
Thanks to the collective work of those in this chamber, those who came before us, and local leadership across Georgia, we’ve been named the No. 1 state for business for nine years in a row.
But despite all we have achieved, there’s a growing risk to that No. 1 status – the need for more workers and quality homes where they can raise a family in the same community where they work.
This year, the budgets I presented to you make significant steps in addressing both issues.
We are putting precious state dollars where our priorities are, including every level of education to grow a generation of highly skilled workers.
In fact, between both budgets we will devote an additional $1.9 billion to education and fully fund the QBE Formula.
We are expanding and reinforcing the workforce pipeline at every level, including where it begins – in our K-12 classrooms.
Hardworking teachers are the most impactful elements of this pipeline.
We’re fortunate to have one of them here with us today. She’s a first-grade teacher at Hahira Elementary School in Lowndes County. During the pandemic, like so many others who serve in our classrooms, she went above and beyond for her students.
Lauren Plair, will you please stand and let us thank you for your service?
Lauren is now in her fifth year of teaching, a milestone when educators often feel burnt out and consider leaving the profession.
To keep our best and brightest in the classroom, when I first ran for governor, I promised to raise teacher pay by $5,000. With your help, we fully delivered on that pledge.
To reward those who continue to serve after the hardships of the pandemic, my FY 2024 budget proposes yet another $2,000 pay raise for teachers like Lauren.
While some politicians have continued to grumble about teacher pay in Georgia, let me give you the facts:
In total, we will have given hardworking educators a $7,000 pay raise in just five years. No other General Assembly or governor will have raised teacher pay by so much, so quickly, in state history!
With the passage of this budget, the average teacher salary in Georgia will also now be over $7,000 higher than the Southeast regional average.
But we know that teachers don’t just need more pay and resources, they also need reinforcements.
That’s why I’m furthering the teacher workforce pipeline measures we put into place during my first term through certification grants that will help paraprofessionals become teachers.
With this one investment, we will add close to 5,000 new teachers to our education workforce!
But we also know the workforce pipeline extends into our world-class universities and technical colleges.
That is why, for the first time in over a decade – and in the 30th year of both this program and the Georgia Lottery – we are once again fulfilling Governor Zell Miller’s vision and returning HOPE Scholarship and Grant awards to 100% of tuition!
Today, we are joined by one of the students and future workers who has benefited from Governor Miller’s legacy and the support of this General Assembly.
“Oba” Samaye is a HOPE Scholarship student at our National Championship-winning University of Georgia. He is a first-generation college student and the oldest of five children. His father is a retired Navy veteran and pastor and his mother is also currently in school working to become a doctor.
By covering 100% of tuition – a policy long worked on by members of both sides of the aisle – a student like Oba will receive roughly $1,000 in additional financial assistance in the coming school year.
Oba, will you rise as we wish you continued success?
We look forward to your bright future and hope that you choose a profession here in Georgia.
We will also continue to focus on apprenticeships, Dual Enrollment pathways, and degrees aligned with the needs of job creators to grow our talent pipeline.
But where will students like Oba and those Lauren teaches live when they get into the workforce? Because of our efforts, there is greater opportunity in every zip code in Georgia, but many of those communities struggle to provide adequate workforce housing.
But transformational projects, good-paying jobs, and new investment are worth little if there aren’t options for hardworking Georgians to live where they work. We’re talking about the people who are teaching your children, keeping your community safe, who provide life-saving support in times of trouble, and those who make the goods and provide the services that make a community such a great place to call home.
That is why I am creating the Rural Workforce Housing Fund, enabling the state to partner directly with local governments to develop sites across the state for workforce housing.
I am also eager to see solutions that will come from others in the next few months.
And as hardworking Georgians find opportunity and the quality housing that comes with it, they also deserve to live, work, and worship in safety.
This is something everyone in this chamber can agree on, and no issue of public safety has received more bipartisan support than the legislation championed by the nation’s best first lady – Marty Kemp – and our three girls.
Working alongside partners on the Grace Commission, like Speaker Pro-Tem Jones, Attorney General Chris Carr, the GBI, and others, they have helped to make Georgia a hostile place for traffickers and a safe haven for victims.
Marty and her partners have worked tirelessly to make Georgians throughout the state aware of this evil industry.
Thanks to that good work, lives have been saved, children have been removed from dangerous situations, and offenders have been put behind bars where they can no longer make victims of the innocent.
I’d like to ask Marty, the girls, and others representing the GRACE Commission to stand so that we can thank them.
This year, we will build on their good work by increasing penalties for those organizations required to provide resources on how to spot human trafficking and what actions are needed to stop it, but who unfortunately fail to do so.
Like Marty’s prior legislation, I’m sure it will receive overwhelming, bipartisan support!
I also want to thank the General Assembly again for your support of the receiving centers where victims find help and hope. That is certainly a resource that was and is still critically needed.
We will also continue to take violent offenders out of our communities. For far too many Georgians, the safety of their families and homes is put at risk by the unchecked crimes of street gangs.
Early in my first term, we created the GBI’s Anti-Gang Task Force to take the fight to these criminals. And last year, you gave the state a new tool to ensure justice – the Gang Prosecution Unit in the Office of Attorney General Chris Carr.
I’m grateful that the Attorney General and his team have already indicted over fifty gang members in just the first six months of standing up this Unit, with more on the way!
Where local District Attorneys are unwilling to confront these violent offenders, the Gang Prosecution Unit is more than capable and willing to step in.
Today, the Attorney General is joined by the head of his Prosecution Division, John Fowler; the head of the Gang Prosecution Unit, Cara Convery; and the head of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, Hannah Palmquist. Would you four please stand and let us thank you?
We have made great strides in curbing crime. But now, this fight is entering a new phase, and law enforcement needs your help to continue to achieve success.
In communities across our state, gangs are actively recruiting children as young as elementary school students into a life of crime. They are targeting the most innocent among us, pulling them down a dark path that too often leads to either a prison cell or the cemetery.
That is why, along with the Attorney General, I’m proposing legislation that will increase penalties for those trying to recruit our children into a gang.
Let me be clear: come after our children, and we will come after you!
I know Lt. Governor Burt Jones and his team are also actively working on the broader issue of gang violence… and we look forward to partnering with them on those efforts. My administration is thankful for his dedication to this urgent problem.
I also know there is strong, bipartisan support for our state law enforcement, including the brave men and women of the state patrol under Colonel Chris Wright’s leadership.
Just last week, we were reminded yet again of their steadfast courage and the dangers they face on a daily basis.
While helping to clear the site of the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Facility of militant activists, a Trooper was shot without warning or just cause. He was rushed to the hospital and endured multiple surgeries and days of severe pain, but just like all Troopers, he has refused to quit.
Just a few blocks from where you’re sitting, he continues to recover. He and his wife have both our thanks and our prayers.
I had the chance to meet with them earlier this week, and his resolve continues to be strong, but he continues to need our prayers.
Just this past weekend, when out-of-state rioters tried to bring violence to the streets of our capital city, State Patrol, Sheriff’s Deputies, and the Atlanta Police quickly brought peace and order. That’s just the latest example of why here in Georgia, we’ll always back the blue!
This morning, we’re joined by another Trooper, one who serves from the skies.
Last year, helicopter pilot Sergeant Brad Harrison – along with a Tactical Flight Officer and a spotter – received a call to assist with a search and rescue operation in Chattooga County. A little boy, no more than five years old, was lost, and like all of us would be, his family was frantic.
Thanks to the skill and quick work of Sergeant Harrison and his crew, they were able to locate the boy in a field, guide Troopers to his location while circling above, and ensure that the child was safely returned to his parents.
Sergeant Harrison, please stand and allow us to thank you for your great work and honored service.
These and other public safety officers on both the state and local levels are the unsung heroes we don’t always hear about because their acts of service are given without expectation or reservation.
In light of this past weekend’s events, when men and women in uniform are putting themselves in harm’s way and literally in the line of fire, you can imagine their frustration when one of these criminals ends up right back out on the street in a matter of hours just to terrorize those streets further.
I appreciate that a Fulton County judge denied bond for four of the six rioters arrested last Saturday, and gave the other two bonds of over $355,000, along with a 24-hour curfew and ankle monitors. Unfortunately, this approach is not universal across the judicial system.
While some may not take this issue seriously, I can assure I do. We can and we must do something about the revolving door of criminal justice! And I look forward to working with this legislature to get it done.
In addition to our public safety officers, we’re also grateful for our healthcare heroes, and simply put, we need more of them.
Right now, there are 67 counties with less than 10 physicians. And Georgia’s need for more nurses is well documented. That’s why I’m proposing over $4.5 million in loan repayment programs to grow the number of healthcare workers in Georgia. I’m also calling for an additional 102 residency slots through an investment of $1.7 million. With these additions, we will exceed the initial goal number of this program.
And I’m proud to report that the innovative solutions we’ve brought to Georgia’s healthcare challenges continue to bring great results. When I first signed the bipartisan Patients First Act in 2019, no counties had more than 2 health insurance carriers. Today, 86% of Georgia counties have three or more carriers.
And while others have called for expanding one-size-fits none, massive government health programs, thanks to our policies, enrollment in the individual market has more than doubled since 2019 to over 700,000 Georgians.
Thanks to our reinsurance program, we’re also saving hardworking families more and more in their wallets. In all, we’ve reduced premiums by an average of 12.4% across the state. That represents an average annual premium reduction of almost $1,000 a year.
In rural counties, where premium prices were the least affordable when I took office, the reinsurance program has reduced premiums from 25% to over 40%.
In addition to these innovations, with your help we expanded Medicaid coverage to a full year after a mother gives birth. To support new mothers even more, my team is proposing legislation that will allow pregnant women who qualify to receive TANF benefits. Previously, they were unable to apply for such assistance until after the child was born.
I know this measure is supported by many in this chamber, and I am grateful for your backing.
Since 2018, our state has spent over $15.3 billion on Medicaid, with a 9% increase in spending over that time. But while the state spends more and more, Georgians aren’t seeing an improvement in care they receive. Here in Georgia, we’re taking an innovative and sustainable approach.
The Georgia Pathways to Coverage program was negotiated in good faith with the federal government so that we could expand access to health insurance for those who need it the most, while also sustaining the quality of coverage.
But it was the Biden Administration that delayed its launch for over a year, until a judge threw out their biased objections to this innovative approach. Yes, those are the facts. When it comes to healthcare for hardworking Georgians, the Biden Administration would rather play partisan politics than get people insured and lower costs.
Folks, we don’t have time to wait on Washington, and I don’t have much patience for D.C. posturing!
We are moving forward, and we are on target for a launch date of July 1 of this year. To meet that goal, I am allocating $52 million to stand this program up and connect those in need to its benefits.
Here’s another fact, upwards of 345,000 Georgians could qualify for the Pathways program and healthcare coverage for the first time, with no changes for those who qualify for regular Medicaid.
And unlike Medicaid expansion, Georgia Pathways will not kick 200,000 Georgians off their private sector insurance.
In our state, we want more people to be covered at a lower cost with more options for patients. And I’m proud to say that Georgia Pathways and Access accomplish that goal!
During this legislative session, I want to encourage the men and women throughout this chamber to consider not just the Georgia of today, but the Georgia of generations from now.
Three years ago, at my State of the State just before the pandemic hit, I shared the words of Nehemiah who refused to slow down or stop his efforts to rebuild his hometown, despite heavy pressure to do so. He always delivered the same message: “I am doing a great work and can’t come down.”
Throughout the pandemic and afterward, we have been reminded that our work continues. And during this session, we should be too busy to come down into the mud of politics. We have much work to do, and we need to get it done for the people counting on us.
Here at the start of a new session, a new term, and a new era for our state, we have an opportunity to make decisions that will impact our children’s grandchildren, if we do it right and together.
The campaigns have all been run and the people have spoken. They have given us our marching orders, and it’s time to get back to work! So, for the Georgians of today and tomorrow… let’s get it done.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless the great State of Georgia.