Republican Brian Kemp proposed giving Georgia public school teachers a permanent $5,000 annual pay raise if he’s elected governor, a plan that would cost state taxpayers roughly $600 million a year.

The secretary of state said Tuesday that he would not raise taxes or fees to fund the pay raises, instead depending on existing revenue from the state’s $26.2 billion budget. Kemp described it as crucial to help the state retain more educators.

“Anybody who looks at teachers’ pay will say this is much needed in Georgia,” he said. “This is about the future of our kids.”

The average Georgia public school teacher earns roughly $54,000 a year, according to a 2017 National Education Association study, ranking the state 23rd in the nation. A recent state Department of Education report showed that roughly 44 percent of all teachers leave the profession within five years.

Kemp is neck-and-neck in the polls with Democrat Stacey Abrams with only about six weeks until the November vote. Some pundits believe this announcement is an attempt to curry favor with left-leaning undecided voters.

The plan would put pressure on the state’s fiscal bottom line, as Georgia officials already struggle to meet the state’s education obligations. Thanks to a robust economy, this year was the first in more than a decade that state lawmakers were able to fully fund the state’s k-12 system.

During good economic times, the state typically takes in about $900 million more in state revenue than the previous year. In the recently completed fiscal year, the state’s take rose $961 million. That means, hypothetically, the governor and General Assembly have an extra $900 million or so to spend each year.

In an interview, Kemp said his plan to limit state spending and review tax credits and other programs would free up more state dollars for education spending.

Kemp has often targeted Abrams as a big-spending Democrat, zeroing in on her plan to expand the Medicaid program at an estimated cost ranging from $246 million to $468 million a year. Asked how he reconciles his critiques of Abrams with his teacher pay plan, he pointed to the state’s expanding economy.

“We absolutely can afford this,” he said. “She’s promising the same pot of money to a lot of different people. I’m promising one pot of money to a specific thing that’s very calculated and targeted.”

Abrams has said she would prioritize “competitive pay” for teachers, update the state’s decades-old funding formula and expand a community-based schooling model to offer more health care and other services. She would also eliminate the $100 million private school tax credit that Kemp supports.

“We’re glad to see Brian Kemp has finally decided to follow Stacey Abrams’ lead on education — she released a proposal to make teacher pay competitive back in April,” Abrams spokeswoman Caitlin Highland said.

Read Greg Bluestein’s full article- with contribution from James Salzer- at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution here.

From AM 1180