The final days before the legislative session begins under the Gold Dome in Atlanta are always slightly busier than normal for State Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown). Before the close of business on Friday afternoon past, Kelley was out at the Polk County Police Department fulfilling a fun and patriotic duty of the job: a flag presentation.
Kelley and Police Chief Kenny Dodd gathered in front of the flagpole at the department’s headquarters just outside of Cedartown for the brief ceremony, providing a new pair of state and national colors to the PCPD that have flown over the State Capitol.
As he heads into his second year as Majority Whip, Kelley looks forward as well to continuing to work not just for the citizens of Polk and Haralson counties, but the entire state as a whole as he gets set to tackle big issues before the legislature.
“I always look forward to getting out and doing the work of the people, the work that this community elected me to do. It’s important work,” Kelley said. “I’m not excited about spending as much time as I’ll have to be spending in Atlanta, I’d rather be here on Main Street in Cedartown. But I’m looking forward to going out and getting to work for the people of Georgia.”
Among the items he hopes to push forward over the next 40 days of the session is both providing a balanced budget as the state house is constitutionally required to do, but also incorporate a promised lowering of the income tax rate and a proposed 6% decrease in spending sought by Governor Brian Kemp.
That income tax decrease is one that House Speaker David Ralston also agrees with moving ahead with in 2020.
“I played a pretty big role a couple of years back (on the first decrease,) and I think my position is clear about cutting our state income tax. I worked extremely hard to push through the first cut, getting it from 6 to 5.75 and in that legislation we also promised to put through another reduction during this upcoming year,” Kelley said. “We made a promise to the voters and I made a promise to my constituents, and I believe we should continue to further reduce the income tax to 5.5%.”
Where Kelley said he and his colleagues will have to adjust their expectations is in spending requests for the 2021 budget, one already well underway after the passage of the FY 2020 figures in 2019’s session.
“It is the first time that we’ve really had to face that obstacle during my tenure in the legislature,” Kelley said of the spending decrease request. “We take our job seriously as appropriators in the house where revenue bills start. We’ve been working since we passed the 2020 fiscal year budget, we started working on the 2021.”
“So we continue to work on that, be good fiscal stewards of the tax dollars that our citizens send to us, and this year is going to be no different,” Kelley continued. “We’re going to prioritize our necessities, and our wants the best that we can. Though we do have some restrictions on us. But we’re going to get done for the people of Georgia the things that need to get done.”
Kemp’s request for a 6% decrease in spending won’t necessarily be tied to promised raises for teachers statewide. Kelley said despite the request for decreases, it wasn’t one being made “across the entire budget.”
“It was over certain segments of the budget. One area that won’t be impacted is our education funding formula. Republicans have continued to fund education at the highest levels that it has ever been funded in our state,” Kelley said. “In terms of the funding formula that we sent down, the funding for $70 million for school safety grants last year, to $3,000 worth of teacher pay raises that we need to affect this year.”
He added that “Governor Kemp made a promise to pass $5,000 worth of teacher pay raises during his first term in office. We’re committed to helping him do that. We believe that he made a promise, in the same way that we made a promise to the voters to cut income taxes. I know that we’re going to try and do as much for our teachers this year that we can, but we also are cognizant of the fact that Governor Kemp has two more years to keep that promise. We’re committed to make good on it, but we also want to get our tax cut done this year.”
One area that Kelley said was exciting for everyone in the state is local, state and national unemployment levels being at record lows and economic development overall on the rise.
“Unemployment is at the lowest rate in Northwest Georgia, in Georgia and in our country in the past 60 years that they’ve’ been tracking it. I think that is a testament to how we’ve been governing the state. We have kept taxes low, and regulations on business at a minimum. We have put forth a business-friendly climate that attracts new jobs and allows our small businesses to grow and thrive in our community,” Kelley said.
“We’re going to continue to do that. We’re the Number 1 state in the country to do business for the seventh year in a row, we’ve got a AAA bond rating which means we’re managing our debt extremely well,” he added. “Education funding has been at the highest level it has been funded at in our state, and we’ve also got a $3 billion-plus rainy day fund to help our state should we ever need it.”
He believes that one way Georgia will continue to hold the top spot for doing business will be through more focus on workforce development via education and offering students statewide options of what career path they want to choose.
“A good economy does bring challenges. With unemployment at lows like this, it drives home even greater a need to continue to develop an educated workforce,” Kelley said. “We’re working to ensure that our children continue to receive an education that prepares them for the real world, that is going to allow them to pursue any professional career that they want: whether through getting a four-year college degree or getting a two-year technical college degree or through our college and career academies across the state.”
Kelley also pointed to continued work on rural broadband and developments over the past years and coming up that will help connect smaller populations spread around the state with greater internet speeds. One area that Kelley said is in the works is the creation of a fund that communities can submit broadband projects into for help with the costs. He also pointed toward past legislative updates that allow electric member cooperatives to offer high speed internet access as well.
Health care waivers are another area that Kelley pointed toward as a legislative issue the state hopes to see worked out on the national level. He said the state worked with the Trump administration to seek waivers and “look forward to getting acceptance on those.”
Kelley added a need for the state to focus on infant mortality rates, and policies to keep communities across the state safer.
“I’m ready to get to work,” he said. “We’re going to be doing a lot.”
Kelley did praise outgoing and newcomers who are working on the national level on behalf of Georgia as the session started, commending Congressman Tom Graves on his service to Northwest Georgia over the past years. He also had positive words of encouragement for new U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, Sen. David Perdue and former Governor and now Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
Kelley did announce his intentions to keep his seat as he wrapped up discussions on Friday afternoon. He’ll be seeking a fifth term in office as State Representative on the 2020 ballot, Kelley said.
“I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “It has been the greatest honor of my life to represent this community. I feel like I’ve gone up and represented the values of our community here. When you look at cutting taxes, funding education and standing up for pro-life values that are so important for our community here. I’ve fought for those things and gotten them passed. I’ve got a great opportunity on the state level in a leadership role to help continue to deliver for our community and I look forward to getting out and campaigning on that.”
His name was one positioned to run for the seat being vacated by Graves at year’s end, but he announced his intentions to stay put early on in the process.