In his State of the State Address, Governor Brian Kemp touted progress in his first term, and laid out next steps that include increased education, incentives for law enforcement and healthcare professionals, and targeted Medicaid expansion through the Georgia Pathways to Coverage program.

“Over the last four years our greatest achievements were accomplished when both chambers worked hand-in-hand with my office to put the people of our state ahead of the status quo,” Kemp told legislators Wednesday.

He said, “I’m proud to report that because of the foundation that we have built together over these past four years, because of the resilience shown by the people of our great state, because of the resolve they continue to show, the state of our state has never been stronger.”

Kemp laid out many of the same priorities and proposals that he highlighted in his inaugural speech and his budget proposal earlier in January, including $1.9 billion for education across the Fiscal Year 2023 and 2024 budget proposals, tougher penalties for certain crimes, and $4.5 million in loan repayment programs for healthcare professionals.

He also highlighted the Georgia Pathways to Coverage program, which comes as Republicans resist a larger Medicaid expansion to cover about 400,000 poor adults, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Kemp’s administration fought the Biden administration over the program, which would include a work requirement for eligibility.

“The Georgia Pathways to Coverage program was negotiated in good faith with the federal government so that we could expand access to health insurance for those who need it the most, while also sustaining the quality of coverage,” Kemp said in his speech.

“But it was the Biden Administration that delayed its launch for over a year, until thankfully a judge threw out their biased objections to this innovative approach. Those are the facts. When it comes to healthcare for hardworking Georgians, the Biden Administration would rather play partisan politics than get people insured and lower costs,” he said.

Kemp said the program is an answer to rising Medicaid costs that aren’t accompanied by a rise in healthcare quality, and has a go-live date of July 1.

“Here’s another fact, upwards of 345,000 Georgians could qualify for the Pathways program and healthcare coverage for the first time, with no changes to those who qualify for regular Medicaid,” he said. “And unlike Medicaid expansion, Georgia Pathways will not kick 200,000 Georgians off their private-sector insurance.”

Kemp’s speech comes on the heels of a victory for state Republicans, who control the General Assembly and all three statewide elected offices.

“The campaigns have all been run, or at least most of them, and the people have spoken. They have given us our marching orders, and it’s time to get back to work! So, for the Georgians of today and tomorrow, let’s get it done,” he said.

In a response to the governor’s speech, State Senator Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) highlighted some agreement on desired outcomes for a better Georgia, but criticized Kemp’s specific policy goals.

“The governor’s budget also robs Peter to pay Paul, by, for example, covering a shrinking percentage of school bus transportation expenses. What that means is that local governments then have to foot the bill and have to raise property taxes to cover the shortfall created by fewer state dollars,” she said.

She criticized Kemp’s large tax relief proposals and instead called for investment in economic inclusion across the state, not just Atlanta; passing laws requiring higher wages; increasing state employee wages; more funding for transportation and broadband; community-based programs to address gun violence; and criticized Georgia’s new constitutional carry gun law.

“Georgia, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is, and the great news is that we have $7 billion in undesignated cash on hand. How we allocate these funds will determine Georgia’s future.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Georgia Star News and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].