Looking back on the year that was, 2022 left a lasting mark on Georgia’s policymaking world in several ways:
1. Brian Kemp is re-elected governor.
People of all political persuasions can all agree this year’s gubernatorial election – a rematch between Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams – offered a clear contrast in visions. Kemp won a second time, and it wasn’t as close as before.
Kemp now has a wide-open field for leading on policy. Being aligned with the Republican majority in the state House (more on that chamber below) and Senate also marks a significant difference between the next four years under Kemp and what might have been under Abrams. Georgians have every reason to expect action, not gridlock.
1a. Voter participation hits new heights despite “Jim Crow 2.0.”
One of 2021’s biggest stories was the General Assembly’s overhaul of election law. Democrats cried foul, business leaders carped, and President Joe Biden called the law “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”
Yet for all the talk, voter participation rose in 2022 over 2018, the most recent, comparable election. More people registered to vote in Georgia, and more people voted. The number of people voting early also rose this year despite a shorter window. Bottom line, the opportunity to vote is alive and well in Georgia.
2. Longtime Speaker David Ralston dies suddenly.
The news came unexpectedly just before Election Day: Ralston would not seek another term as speaker of the Georgia House due to health concerns. Less than two weeks later, he had left us.
There are obvious, genuine human effects of such an untimely death. There is also very real policymaking fallout. Ralston led the House for 13 sessions, and he left a deep imprint on it.
The first year of a governor’s second term is often a time for substantive change. But leadership in the House – not to mention the Senate, with new Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and other new leaders – could alter that trajectory.
3. Georgians get record-breaking tax relief.
Finally, an item on our list related to policy enacted in 2022. Legislators knew it was time to act boldly, with a surplus of more than $3 billion. They did so, flattening Georgia’s unwieldy six tax brackets to a single rate that will fall over time to 4.99%. Speaking of which …
4. Georgia builds a $6 billion-plus surplus.
Money keeps pouring into Georgia’s coffers, a symptom of rampant inflation and a booming state economy. This surplus will test the discipline of lawmakers, who would be wise to dedicate part of it to accelerating the tax cuts they just passed, which aren’t set to begin until 2024.
5. Soaring home prices, heavy-handed regulations spark calls for policy relief.
Georgia’s reputation as an affordable place to live has taken a hit of late, with home prices rising sharply. Lack of supply has much to do with it. A spate of local laws, from pricey architectural design standards to restrictions on “build to rent” neighborhoods, haven’t helped. Legislators are signaling they may not watch idly much longer.
6. School funding piles up, school choice languishes.
Georgia’s public schools have never had so much money: The state’s education formula is fully funded, federal emergency funds still sit unspent, and reserve accounts burst at the seams. Yet, parents’ pandemic-induced skepticism of school adequacy remains high. The Legislature passed a small increase in the state’s tax-credit scholarship cap in 2022 but otherwise punted on school choice. How much longer will parents wait for them to take action?
7. Atlanta Medical Center closes, leaving numerous patients unserved.
The stunning announcement that WellStar would close its 460-bed, downtown Atlanta hospital caught city and state officials alike off-guard. It also angered them. After years of interminable debates about ending monopolistic protections for hospitals, this move may have broken the logjam among lawmakers.
As you can see, there is plenty for Georgia’s lawmakers to do. The time for them to get started is right around the corner. See you in 2023.