Lt. Governor Jones, Speaker Burns, President Pro Tem Kennedy, Speaker Pro Tem Jones, members of the General Assembly, Constitutional Officers, members of the Public Service Commission, Mayor Dickens, members of the judiciary, members of the consular corps, and my fellow Georgians:
Later this year, the people of this state will once again fulfill their civic duty, they will choose who occupies these seats of service, and they will determine what course America takes in the years to come.
As they have in years past, when they go to the ballot box, they’ll see a stark difference between Georgia and our nation’s capital.
They will see what we’ve achieved together on the state level to make Georgia an even greater place to live, work, and raise a family, and they’ll see the hardships Washington D.C. has brought into every home and placed on every kitchen table across our state.
Congress has become synonymous with runaway spending, bloated budgets, job-killing regulations, gridlock and partisanship, and elected representatives in both parties who are more interested in getting famous on cable news than delivering results for the American people.
All the while across the nation, over 60 percent of households are living paycheck to paycheck.
Over 8.4 million Americans are working two jobs to make ends meet.
Mortgage rates remain at highs not seen in a generation.
And while the rate of inflation may have fallen, high prices on everything from groceries to rent have not.
In fact, it costs Americans over 11,000 dollars more per year to maintain the same quality of life they had just a few short years ago.
For the hardworking men and women of this country, paying 11,000 dollars more a year is not a choice between the luxuries of life.
For too many people, that’s a decision between putting food on the table for their family, making your car payment, buying clothes for their kids, or going further into debt.
For a recent graduate, it’s about whether you can afford to get your own place and pay off student loans.
For a single mom, it’s a decision about taking that new job in a career that pays better, but it doesn’t offer affordable childcare.
For a family of four, can they make ends meet when saving for their kids’ college and paying their mortgage?
And for our seniors, are they able to stretch a fixed income to meet their basic needs?
These are the people that Washington D.C has left behind. Because for every challenge our nation faces, the federal response is to spend more, regulate more, tax more, and come up with yet another government program meant to cure every ill.
Instead of empowering hardworking Americans to innovate, create, and seek greater prosperity, their answer is more government.
But here in Georgia, we’ve chosen a different path.
Because we realize that the success of our state does not rely on the actions of government, but on the prosperity of our people.
It’s the resolve, ingenuity, and character of the American people.
Those were the hardworking Georgians we heard from on the campaign trail.
As a family, we heard their stories, their struggles, and their hopes for a brighter future.
And as you all know, that was truly a family affair. And I want to thank Marty, Jarrett, Lucy, and Amy Porter for being there every step of the way – including today!
My commitment to the people of our state was simple. I promised to put hardworking Georgians first, fund our priorities as a state like education, public safety, and healthcare, but also keep government efficient, responsible, and accountable.
The federal government may have abandoned those principles, but here in Georgia, thanks to the partnership between my administration and the General Assembly, we’ve delivered real results for the people of our state, ahead of schedule and under budget.
Thanks to a strong economy and conservative fiscal management of state revenues, we’ve provided nearly 5 billion dollars of direct relief to taxpayers in tax refunds, gas tax suspensions, homestead tax exemptions, and more.
Despite unprecedented challenges, we have maintained a Triple-A bond rating while celebrating the creation of more than 171,000 new jobs and roughly 74.5 billion dollars of investment in every corner of the Peach State over the last 5 years!
And unlike a lot of blue states, these are private sector jobs – not growing the ranks of government!
And we’re not done yet.
Last month, I joined Lt. Governor Jones, Speaker Burns, and others to announce our plan to speed up implementation of the largest tax cut in state history.
With your support, I look forward to signing legislation that decreases our state income tax to 5.39 percent starting this year.
That represents savings of 3 billion dollars for Georgia taxpayers over the next ten years.
Mr. Speaker and Lt. Governor, while President Biden hires tens of thousands of new IRS agents, my vote is we just keep cutting taxes here in Georgia!
The path Georgia has taken over the last five years has led to record job growth, historic investment in communities from Bainbridge to Blue Ridge, 5 billion dollars in tax relief, and enough funds saved to operate state government for months in an emergency, not days.
That’s the choice before Georgians this November, and I feel confident they’ll vote to keep Georgia moving in the right direction once again.
So, to answer the question, the state of our state is strong, growing, and prosperous because we trust our citizens more than we trust the government.
Georgia is succeeding because we’ve charted our own path, rejected the failed policies of Washington D.C, and worked together to put our citizens first.
But I believe the worst thing we could do is call it a day and coast through what is certain to be a contentious election year.
We have accomplished so much over the last five years – despite unprecedented times and challenges – because we haven’t gotten distracted from doing the job we were all sent here to do.
Like I mentioned four years ago in my second state of the state address, we stayed true to the example of Nehemiah, committed to our great work, and now we’re seeing the results.
It’s no secret that Georgia is growing. As the top state for business for a record ten years in a row, new jobs are headed our way on a daily basis, existing businesses are looking to expand, and companies all over the world look to the Peach State to locate their next headquarters.
But with growth comes the need for more trained workers to fill these good-paying jobs in a rapidly changing labor environment.
That’s why I was proud to unveil the Georgia MATCH program at last year’s Workforce Summit.
The largest direct college admissions program in the nation, Georgia MATCH is already doing an incredible job linking the upcoming generation with the school that meets their needs.
As of today, over 10,000 students have already “met their match,” and we will keep working to reach every high school senior in Georgia, so that they know there is a higher education path open to them right here in the Peach State, no matter their circumstances.
Speaking of education, my amended 2024 budget and fiscal year 2025 budget proposals double down on our continued and historic support of K thru 12 education. with 1.4 billion dollars in additional funds allocated for a total of 12.8 billion dollars.
Republicans and Democrats alike have supported this record investment in our students, and I want to take a moment and thank all of you for that strong, bipartisan achievement.
It’s also important for us to remember that increased funding does not always guarantee greater success.
As a small business owner for almost forty years now, I believe – like many of you – that competition and the free market drive innovation and, at the end of the day, result in a better product for the consumer.
When it comes to education, the same principles hold true.
Over the last few years, there has been a great deal of debate around different proposals to expand options for students and families when it comes to finding the education that best fits their individual needs.
Many members in both chambers have worked hard on this important issue and I want to thank and applaud them for their efforts.
Some prefer the term school choice or educational freedom, some call them vouchers.
In my opinion, what each of those terms or slogans fail to mention is the child. At the end of the day, our first and foremost consideration should be the future of that student.
Our job is not to decide for each family, but to support them in making the best choice for their child.
This week, as we begin the second year of another biennial of the General Assembly, I believe we have run out of “next years.”
I firmly believe we can take an all-of-the-above approach to education… whether it’s public, private, homeschooling, charter, or otherwise.
It is time for all parties to get around a table and agree on the best path forward to provide our kids the best educational opportunities we can – because that’s what we were elected to do.
To that end, my office and I look forward to working with the members and leadership of both chambers to get a bill passed and signed into law this session.
Finally, our students and teachers deserve to have a safe learning environment, no matter their zip code.
Since I took office, I have had the opportunity to hold more than 30 roundtable discussions with educators and superintendents from all over this state. We heard frequently that our schools were in need of additional resources to enhance this security.
That is why since 2019, we have provided more than 185 million dollars to all of our schools to help ensure the safety and well-being of our students and teachers.
This year, I am proposing we continue those efforts by making school security funding permanent. In my budget proposal, I have included a request for 104 million dollars that will go directly to school districts for school safety enhancements.
Schools will determine how best to use this money, whether for personnel like school resource officers or for physical and technology improvements that make our places of learning more secure.
This investment is more significant because it will enable schools and administrators to plan accordingly, knowing that this money is headed their way for this specific purpose.
I hope to see strong bipartisan support for this budget item to keep our kids and our schools safe.
Since being sworn in as your 83rd governor, a top priority of my administration has been ensuring the safety and security of our communities.
There’s no doubt we have made great progress. From the GBI’s Anti-Gang Taskforce and HEAT Unit, and the Department of Public Safety’s Crime Suppression Unit, to the First Lady’s GRACE Commission, the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and the school security measures I just mentioned, we have not wavered in our commitment to strengthening public safety.
But the state can’t do it alone. Thankfully, over the last two years, we have had strong partners at the local level who have worked alongside state law enforcement to make our capital city safer.
Two of those gentlemen are here with us today, and I want to take a moment to thank Mayor Dickens and Chief Schierbaum for their partnership.
While the mayor and I come from different political parties and don’t agree on everything, we do agree on the importance of reducing crime and keeping our citizens safe.
Bipartisan majorities of both chambers, the mayor, and myself all agree on the critical need for the completion of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
This facility will provide our law enforcement officers, firefighters and additional first responders the critical tools, knowledge, and skills needed to keep themselves and our communities safe.
One of our brave public safety officers is here with us this morning.
Exactly a year ago this week, this dedicated trooper was shot and severely wounded near the site of the future training center.
He spent weeks in the hospital fighting for his life, he endured multiple surgeries, and spent the better part of this year in recovery while his family stood strong beside him.
Marty and I were honored to spend time with him while he was in the hospital, and I was honored when he gave me one of my most prized possessions: his SWAT challenge coin bearing his badge number.
He had that coin on him when he was shot that horrible day, and it is a constant reminder of the price paid by men and women like him all over this state who keep our children, our homes, our businesses, and our streets safe.
Trooper First Class Jerry Parrish, will you please stand with your wife Kelli and let us thank you for your great service
Thank you to the entire Parrish family for your service, your bravery, and the sacrifices you’ve made over the past year for us.
We’re also joined in the gallery by some brave men who rendered life-saving aid to Trooper Parrish on site and who helped get him to safety.
They represent some of our very finest from both the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Natural Resources. Will you all please stand and let us thank you for your inspiring actions?
I don’t claim to speak for anyone else in this chamber today, but this decision is very simple for me and my family.
As long as I’m your governor, there will be no gray area or political double talk:
We support our law enforcement officers.
We support our firefighters and first responders.
And the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center should be built – period!
Article I, Section I, Paragraph II of the Georgia Constitution states: “Protection to person and property is the paramount duty of government and shall be impartial and complete.”
To fulfill that paramount duty, we must do more than show our support for law enforcement in words. We have to show it through action.
That is why last year, thanks to the work of the General Assembly, I was proud to sign a budget that included a 6,000-dollar pay raise for state law enforcement officers. That pay raise was a recognition of the contributions these brave men and women make as they put their lives on the line, day in and day out.
And this year I look forward to working with each of you to, once again, provide another pay raise for state law enforcement.
Within my budget proposal are pay increases of an additional 3,000 dollars for State Patrol officers like Trooper Parrish, as well as our correctional officers and other state law enforcement agencies.
These investments will not only serve as a renewal of our commitment to these law enforcement officers, but will also support our ongoing recruitment and retention efforts.
I’m also urging the General Assembly to complete what we started last year and give final passage to the peace officer loan repayment program.
Because despite what some may say, we need more police officers, not fewer.
This year we will also be continuing our efforts to combat human trafficking in our state, thanks to the leadership of the greatest First Lady in the country, Marty Kemp!
Thanks to her work, and that of the GRACE Commission and members of both chambers, Georgia has gone from being known as a human trafficking destination to being known as the leader in going after traffickers and supporting victims.
Under the First Lady’s leadership, and with overwhelming support from both chambers, we have passed and signed into law 8 pieces of legislation that go after those who work in this evil enterprise while also supporting the victims.
Our efforts have enabled the GBI’s HEAT unit to investigate 369 cases of human trafficking since its creation and for Attorney General Carr’s Human Trafficking Prosecution unit to secure 32 convictions while assisting in the rescue of over 129 victims since it launched.
But we still have work to do, and Marty and I are both looking forward to working with each of you this session to keep up this fight.
Five years into my administration, when it comes to healthcare, we have made enormous strides in lowering costs, expanding access, and incentivizing more healthcare providers to give care.
We began this work with the passage of the Patients First Act in 2019, and since then, we’ve seen strong results.
In 2019, no counties in Georgia had more than 2 health insurance carriers. Today, 87 percent of Georgia counties have three or more carriers.
And thanks to Georgia Access and the reinsurance program, enrollment in the private sector exchange over the past five years has grown from just under 460,000 to over 1.2 million Georgians.
Georgia Access is also saving hardworking families more and more in their wallets.
In all, we’ve reduced premiums by an average of 11 percent across the state. That represents an average annual premium reduction of almost 929 million dollars a year.
In rural counties, where premium prices were the least affordable when I took office, Georgia Access has reduced premiums by an average of 29 percent.
While some in the media refuse to acknowledge this significant progress, we’ll continue to support policies that work for Georgians – not political narratives.
Because the fact is that for individuals and families struggling to make ends meet, lower insurance costs and more choices lead to better care that they can actually afford.
And because we have made sound policy choices, budgeted conservatively, and prioritize innovation and efficiency, we’re able to make other important investments in the health and wellbeing of hardworking Georgians.
That includes our efforts in mental health.
Two years ago, I was proud to sign into law the Mental Health Parity Act, a fitting capstone to the late Speaker David Ralston’s years of service in this chamber, and one that leaves a lasting legacy.
One of the most visible examples of that legacy was the 9-8-8 crisis hotline campaign, conducted by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities last year.
Thanks to Commissioner Kevin Tanner and his team, more Georgians than ever before are accessing services and the help they need to turn their lives around for the better.
To enhance this program further, my budget proposals call for a total increase of 205 million dollars for DBHDD and other entities that address mental health.
This new funding will enable DBHDD to expand services for those struggling with mental illness, it will increase the number of crisis beds throughout the state, it will further crisis intervention resources in all communities, and improve the quality of mental health services overall.
Once passed, we will be spending 1.6 billion dollars on mental health - more than ever before.
I’m proud of what these and other agencies are doing to help their fellow Georgians and to keep us the best state to live, work, and raise a family.
As we speak, all across Georgia, there are men and women working hard to keep our neighborhoods safe, attract new jobs and industries to communities in need, teaching a whole generation that will one day occupy these roles, and much more.
They have remained committed and hardworking during unprecedented challenges over the last five years and I’m proud of everything they have accomplished for our citizens.
It’s no secret that most state government jobs pay less than private sector opportunities in the same line of work. But many of our employees do it because they feel a sense of public service and they want our state to succeed.
But for state government to stay efficient and stay ahead of Georgia’s continued growth, we must be able to attract and then retain employees who perform vitally important jobs.
That’s why my budget proposal provides a pay increase for all state employees, including our teachers.
This will build on the historic raises we’ve provided for educators over recent years and will increase every state worker’s pay by 4 percent.
My proposal also rewards those who gave decades of their lives and careers to serving others by allocating 500 million dollars to shore up our state retiree fund, ensuring our state keeps its promises to our retirees and stays on solid financial footing.
Instead of expanding the size and scope of government, we’re putting state dollars to work in targeted, efficient ways to recruit, retain, and thank employees in vital roles from corrections officers to case workers.
By doing so, we’re continuing our efforts to wisely use every penny taxpayers send us, from state agency personnel, to our schools, public safety, and the healthcare marketplace.
As we look across America, there is no doubt we are at a crossroads.
From crushing inflation and dysfunction in Washington, to the crisis at our southern border and unrest overseas, these are indeed trying times.
But I believe we have an opportunity here in Georgia, an opportunity to highlight a different path.
One of the brilliant principles of America’s founding is the role of the states, for them to be the laboratories of democracy, to protect the liberties and freedoms of their citizens, and to carry out the will of the people.
Our founders didn’t believe the states should always look to the federal government for answers, and judging by the current comparison, I don’t think we would have much to learn.
In Georgia, we balance our budget and spend less than we take in.
We cut taxes instead of raising them.
We return money back to the taxpayers rather than justifying new government programs.
We back the blue, crack down on violent crime and gangs, and put the safety of our communities ahead of partisan political agendas.
We celebrate the free market, instead of using the heavy hand of government.
We work together across party lines on more issues than not.
And most importantly, we put our people first.
In an election year, I don’t expect us all to agree on every issue. Every district represented under this Gold Dome is different and sends each of you here with a unique set of issues to address.
Over the next 36 legislative days, there will be passionate debate, there will be disagreements, there will be tough votes, there will be long nights, and maybe even some short tempers.
But in the middle of all that, I ask that we also remember Georgia is different for a reason.
That our success is not an accident, but the result of a resilient people who elected their leaders to keep state government efficient, responsive, and accountable.
In Georgia, we believe the American Dream will always provide our people greater prosperity than the government ever could.
The state of our state is strong, growing, and full of opportunity.
Let’s use this session to keep it that way!
Thank you all, may God Bless you, and may God Bless the great state of Georgia!