The Week: Taxes, health care draw spotlight in Georgia governor’s race


The inevitable issues of taxes and, well, avoiding death — aka health care — were leading topics this past week in the 2018 race for Georgia governor.

Three of the four leading GOP candidates for governor differed sharply over tax policy at a recent joint event.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle noted that both Florida and Tennessee have no income tax and said he is “very supportive of a strategy to get us off a state income tax and move to a consumption-based tax.”

State Sen. Hunter Hill of Atlanta said eliminating the state income tax was his top fiscal policy.

State Sen. Michael Williams of Cumming echoed Hill – and took a shot at Cagle, blaming the lieutenant governor for failing to slash taxes deeper.

“We have the money to eliminate the state income tax,” Williams said. “We just don’t have the political will power to do it.”

Unimpressed was Gov. Nathan Deal’s top aide, Chris Riley, who echoed his boss’ opposition to deep slashes in Georgia’s revenue stream in a Tweet: “I hope they don’t miss with their aim and kill Georgia’s AAA bond rating we have enjoyed for over 20 consecutive years. #keepgaAAA”.

(By the way, the state collected about $12 billion in personal and corporate income taxes in the recently completed fiscal year. That’s 55 percent of all tax collections, so there is debate on Williams’ point about the state having enough money to eliminate income taxes at present.)

On the health care front, the major candidates for governor in both parties split over how Georgia should proceed now that the Affordable Care Act seems destined to remain the law of the land. Democrats advocate a full expansion of the Medicaid program, while most of the Republicans are receptive to waivers that would grant Georgia more flexibility in spending federal dollars.

There’s not enough room here to post their statements, but here’s a closer look at where they stand:

Cagle wants states to get block grant funding for Medicaid, and he supports a plan to restrict “able-bodied, childless” adults from receiving some benefits under the state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled. Fellow Republicans in the race, Hill and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, said they were open to new ways to give the state more flexibility in running the program. The campaign team for Williams did not respond to email seeking comment.

On the Democratic side, the two candidates, state Rep. Stacey Abrams and state Rep. Stacey Evans, both favor expanding Medicaid to more Georgians under Obamacare. Abrams points out that states that have expanded the program under the Affordable Care Act have realized “economic benefits.” Evans said she also wants to see some workers — who have been identified by employers as independent contractors so they can be denied benefits — reclassified to make them eligible for insurance coverage.

  • More on health care: Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson thinks now’s the time for the two parties to work together to “deal with the issues that are making (health) insurance so expensive,” the Republican told The Marietta Daily Journal.

Isakson backed all three of the major Obamacare repeal proposals that came across the Senate floor in late July. So did Georgia’s other U.S. senator, Republican David Perdue.

  • Still even more on health care: U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, met recently with internal medicine residents at Redmond Regional Medical Center, according to The Rome News-Tribune. The congressman offered a hint of one area where Republicans may be headed next on health care: allowing people to deduct the cost of insurance from their taxes.

The Macon Republican says it is time to revisit the onerous debate over redistricting. Peake says it’s probably “unrealistic” to propose a new way to draw districts, but he also acknowledged that the proliferation of safe seats that favor one party or the other inhibits bipartisan work.

“Of the 14 (congressional) districts in Georgia, maybe one is competitive. They’ve been redistricted to be safe Republicans and safe Democrats,” Peake said. “Imagine how different we would govern if every district was split. We would have this instant polarization go away and we’d look at each other differently, work across party lines more.”

Not so sure is state Rep. Chuck Efstration. “Exhibit A is the United State Senate,” the Republican from Dacula wrote in a Facebook post. “Senators are not subject to partisan gerrymandering, yet the partisan divide in the present-day Senate is as brutal as any other legislative body.”

  • Ready to listen: Republican U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter has scheduled no fewer than nine town halls in his coastal Georgia congressional district in the next week, according to the tracking website the Town Hall Project. Compare that with the state’s other congressmen, who have not scheduled any other in-person or telephone town halls for the August recess that are open to the general public, per that same website.
  • A fired AG, a threatened AG: Sally Yates, the acting U.S. attorney general who was fired by President Donald Trump in January, warned Monday, in an interview with NPR, about “catastrophic consequences” if Trump is allowed to fire U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and halt the investigation into Russian electoral interference.

“The really troubling thing to me was why (Trump) was beating (Sessions) up, and that is that he wanted him to resign, to be able to put someone else in to run the Russia investigation.

“And so while I understand why there would be a lot of discussion about the fact that Attorney General Sessions had been so loyal to the president, it really missed the bigger point to me, and that is the critical fact that the Department of Justice must absolutely be independent,” said Yates, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Justice Department who served as a federal prosecutor in Atlanta.

  • Seeking Shafer’s seat: The race to replace state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, just got a lot more interesting. Democrat Zahra Karinshak, an attorney and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy — she rose to the rank of captain as an intelligence officer — made it known this week that she’s interested in running for the seat. So far, the only Republican in the race is Matt Reeves, a Duluth attorney with a sweep of support from local GOP officials. With Shafer’s decision to run for lieutenant governor, Democrats are salivating over the chance to flip the seat. It’s one of about a dozen GOP-held state legislative districts in Georgia that Donald Trump lost in November.

Endorsements:

— State Sen. David Shafer’s campaign for lieutenant governor picked up support from former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr.

Barr’s endorsement follows closely that of Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Barr was a vocal proponent of Cruz’s run for the presidency and traveled across the country on his behalf.

— The left-leaning Let America Vote PAC has endorsed Democrat Stacey Abrams in the race for governor. The group’s president, former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, had earlier stumped for the candidate in Georgia.

— Georgia Equality went with a familiar face for its Atlanta mayoral endorsement: former City Councilwoman Cathy Woolard, a longtime advocate for the gay-rights group in the halls of the statehouse. Said Executive Director Jeff Graham: “We couldn’t have defeated all of the anti-gay legislation in the Capitol in recent years if it weren’t for Cathy.”


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