Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

The Jolt: Calls for elimination of state income tax are ‘political rhetoric,’ says Casey Cagle


Erick Erickson of WSB Radio fame is doing extended sit-downs with all the GOP candidates for governor. On Thursday, it was Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s turn.

Listen to the complete half-hour interview here. Several minutes into the exchange, Erickson points out that other candidates are talking about the elimination of the state income tax, as Tennessee and Florida have done. Said Cagle:

“I believe we can roll back the six percent rate. And I look forward to outlining that plan… I think we can get to five, we may be able to get to four-and-a-half. It’s going to take not only looking at what we have, but making some significant adjustments in terms of reining in additional spending, prioritizing that spending…”

Erickson pointed out that rolling back the tax and eliminating are two different things. Said Cagle:

“I think you have to be very cognizant of political rhetoric versus reality. And it’s real easy to stand up and say we’re going to do away with your state income tax. The truth is that’s 54 percent of your state resources…

“So if you’re going to take it away, what are you going to replace it with? Because people still have to go to school, you have to take care of the blind, the disabled and the elderly. Obviously, public safety – all those factors make up 85 percent of the budget.

“But look at the facts: We are the second-lowest taxed state per capita in the country.”

Former state Sen. Hunter Hill, who has made eliminating the state income tax a focal point of his campaign for governor, sent this response through his spokesman:

“Lt. Governor Cagle knows all about political rhetoric - that’s all the taxpayers of Georgia have received from him during his twenty-four years in political office. Multiple other states have eliminated their state income tax, and Hunter Hill is the true conservative leader committed to getting it done for Georgia families.”

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In the lead-up to and directly after big congressional votes in Washington, our inboxes usually light up with press releases from local lawmakers touting, how they voted and why. Today’s early morning vote on a mammoth, two-year budget agreement was a little different.

Getting any staff to talk about how the boss was planning to vote yesterday was like pulling teeth – and there were very few press releases, tweets, telegrams or other means of communication when we woke up this morning to explain why their boss’ voted the way they did. One exception was U.S. Sen. David Perdue. 

The Republican ran on a platform of cutting the nation’s debt, and he routinely voted against blockbuster fiscal bills during the Obama administration. But he’s been willing to play along with spending legislation since his ally Donald Trump was sworn in as president, and he voted for last night’s budget deal even though it would add hundreds of billions to deficits. He cited the bill’s new military spending and language creating a special panel to overhaul the budget process, an issue he’s advocated for in the past:

“This select committee is our opportunity to finally develop a process that works,” he said in a statement. 

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Many Republicans in the delegation, particularly those elected on a fiscally conservative ticket as part of the 2010 tea party wave, wrestled with similar questions in the lead-up to the early morning vote. Ditto for Democrats being pressured from the left on immigration. 

After all, the bill included many of the parochial priorities they’d been pushing for all year, including more money for the military, hospitals and cotton farmers

This statement from Augusta-area Republican Rick Allen, who has both Plant Vogtle and Fort Gordon in his district, provides a taste:

“Ultimately, when it comes down to it, my job is to represent the people of Georgia-12 and this legislation provided my district with some critical support,” he said. “Looking to the future, we shouldn’t have to make tough choices like this anymore. We need to get our budget process back to regular order.” 
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In today’s Washington Post, a list of winners and losers in the spending bill now before President Donald Trump includes this paragraph that addresses those military concerns we mentioned above:

The largesse also removes any pressure for the military to embrace change. For example, the Pentagon said it has 22 percent excess base capacity that it would like to close. The extra money also removes pressure to cut weapons systems that some say are better suited to the last war, such as the A-10 attack jet or the U2 high-altitude surveillance plane.

Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta serves as a base for the A-10, an ugly but effective ground-support aircraft known as the Warthog.

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In the end, only three of the Georgia delegation’s 16 members voted against the budget compromise:

-- U.S. Reps. John Lewis of Atlanta and Hank Johnson of Lithonia voted with Nancy Pelosi and the majority of House Democrats against the bill, mainly in protest of Speaker Paul Ryan refusing to commit to an immigration vote on the Dreamers. (Lewis also told us Thursday he thought defense spending levels were too high.)

-- U.S. Rep. Jody Hice of Monroe was the only Georgia Republican to vote no. He voted with his colleagues on the House Freedom Caucus, who had come out against the measure because it “adds to the swamp instead of draining it.” Hice is a new member of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the Pentagon. Many of his colleagues voted yes since the bill bolstered military spending.

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In Washington, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are pushing GOP leaders for hearings examining the country’s election infrastructure, citing in part recent cyber vulnerabilities found in Georgia. In a letter yesterday to committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, the Democrats, including Hank Johnson of Lithonia, cited “mounting evidence of a coordinated effort to undermine the most basic and essential aspects of the democratic process.”

One of the examples listed was a data wipe that occurred in July at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University shortly after a lawsuit was filed seeking to force the state to overhaul its election technology.The letter also cites the electronic voter logs stolen from the pickup truck of a poll worker following the first round of the 6th District congressional contest last year. 

***

We dug deeper into the campaign disclosures to uncover some more tidbits. 

Donors to Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor, include Hollywood stars Meryl Streep and Alyssa Milano, WNBA President Lisa Borders and U.S. Reps. Ro Khanna of California and Cheri Bustos of Illinois. 

Among the backers of Stacey Evans, the other Democratic candidate for governor: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; H.J. Russell & Co. chief executive Jerome Russell; ex-Hartsfield Jackson Airport manager Ben DeCosta; and former Georgia congressman Buddy Darden. Jimmy Carter’s son, Chip Carter, and grandson, James E. Carter, also contributed to Evans’ campaign. 

 ***

House Democrats gathering for an annual retreat this week will hear from a Georgia operative whose star is rising in Washington. NBC reports that Richard McDaniel, the former Clinton aide in Atlanta, will tell the audience how he helped Doug Jones pull off his improbable U.S. Senate victory in Alabama. 

 ***

Democrat Kevin Abel is staffing up for his Sixth District campaign. The Alpharetta businessman hired a half-dozen staffers to help him raise cash, test messages and reach voters. Among them is Scott Gale, a former aide to Thurbert Baker, for fundraising; Liz Chadderdon and Joe Lestingi for direct-mail work; pollster Mark Mellman, a one-time adviser to Zell Miller; Michael Worley to handle email and social media; and Dane Strother, who has worked for Roy Barnes and Rep. John Lewis, for campaign ads. 

 ***

The Washington Post reports that the White House’s desire to punish Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, has raised the ire of Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. The newspaper reports that administration officials are trying to remove Shulkin’s second in command, a Trump appointee who once worked for Isakson on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee: 

“If this is true, it will be a mistake, and I am deeply disappointed in the president,” Isakson told the newspaper. “Veterans will suffer because of this decision if it’s true.” 


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