State tax revenues strong in September

ATLANTA – The state Department of Revenue collected almost $3.1 billion in taxes in September, an increase of $279.2 million – or 9.9% – over the same month a year ago. 

State tax receipts during the first quarter of fiscal 2023 were up 7.2% for the same period last year. 

Individual income tax revenues rose by 9.2% last month compared to September 2021, resulting from a large increase in tax payments. Net sales taxes were up 14.6%. 

Corporate income tax collections for September rose to $603.9 million, compared to $398.4 million during the same month a year ago. Corporate tax payments for the month increased, while refunds issued dropped 14%. 

Tax receipts from gasoline and other motor fuels were off 103.7% in September, as the state continued to suspend collecting the tax on order from Gov. Brian Kemp. 

Georgia tax revenues have been on the rise for more than a year, as the state built a record budget surplus coming out of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Kemp said in August he would use part of the surplus to fund a proposed a $2 billion income and property tax rebate to Georgia taxpayers next year if he wins reelection in November. That would be in addition the $1.6 billion election-year rebate taxpayers received this year. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia high-school graduation rate up in 2022 – again

ATLANTA – Georgia’s high-school graduation rate increased to 84.1% in 2022, the highest it’s been since the state began using a federally required method to calculate the rate. 

This year’s rate is just a bit higher than last year’s rate of 83.7% 

Over the past decade, the state’s graduation rate has steadily increased. Back in 2012, the rate was a dismal 69.7%, according to a press release from the state Department of Education.

In 2022, over 100 school districts had a graduation rate of 90% or higher. And 41 districts even hit or exceeded the 95% mark. 

“Teachers and students who persevered through the challenges of the last several years deserve credit for Georgia’s graduation rate increasing and other recent positive indicators, like Georgia students beating the SAT national average once again,” said State School Superintendent Richard Woods. 

Republican Woods is seeking his third term as the state’s school chief. He will face Democrat Alisha Thomas Searcy in the November election.  

Georgians can visit the state Department of Education’s website to see graduation rates for each school and district in the state. 

Georgia uses a federally required method to calculate its graduation rate: The number of students who graduate from high school in four years is divided by the number of students who entered ninth grade. That ninth-grade enrollment number is adjusted to reflect the number of students who transfer in or out of a school over the next three years. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Abrams, Kemp campaigns raise combined $55 million in third quarter

ATLANTA – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams raised $36.3 million over the last three months, surpassing the $29 million incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp raised in the same period. 

Though Abrams outraised Kemp, the incumbent governor has $19.6 million in cash on hand as of this week while Abrams has $11 million. 
 
With only one month until election day, both candidates have plenty of money for ad buys, mailings, signs and campaign events.

Most of Abrams’ campaign fundraising during the third quarter – $20.8 million – came from her One Georgia leadership committee.

Leadership committees can raise unlimited contributions on behalf of top statewide and legislative candidates. The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation last year authorizing the committees. 

Donations to the Abrams campaign have come from around 370,000 individual donors since the campaign started, with the vast majority of donations for amounts under $25, a campaign press release noted. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

State Supreme Court hears arguments on Spaceport Camden referendum 

ATLANTA – The state Supreme Court Thursday heard arguments about the power of local referendums to change county government decisions – such as Camden County’s decision to purchase property to build a long-planned spaceport – under the Georgia Constitution. 

The case pits Camden County voters opposed to the spaceport against their own county government in a case that could influence both the future of the plan and voter oversight of local elected officials in Georgia. 

Camden County leaders have sought to build a spaceport for years, claiming it will bring jobs and economic development to the southeast Georgia region. The county commission agreed to an options contract to purchase the land needed for the space-launch facility from Union Carbide Corporation back in 2015. 

Earlier this year, local opponents successfully led a petition drive asking for a referendum on whether the county’s approval of the land purchase should be repealed. 

In a March special election, about 4,100 people voted against the county’s plan to purchase the land for the spaceport and around 1,600 voted in favor. The county appealed a superior court’s ruling that the referendum could proceed, giving rise to the case the Supreme Court considered Thursday. 

Lawyers for Camden County argued the Georgia Constitution limits the authority of such local referendums. That authority does not extend to allowing voters to veto a county commission’s resolution.   

“[The] referendum in Camden County was a legal nullity … the constitution did not authorize it,” said Pearson Cunningham, one of the attorneys for Camden County.  

In contrast, lawyers for the petitioners who pushed for the referendum argued the vote was valid under a plain reading of the state constitution. 

“The Georgia Constitution says what it says – the right to repeal a county ordinance is explicit… [Camden County] wants the court to determine that the Constitution does not mean what it says,” said Phillip Thompson, one of the lawyers for the people who led the petition drive to hold the referendum. 

Earlier this summer, Union Carbide, the land’s current owner, said it no longer intends to sell to Camden County and noted the referendum results invalidated the previous options contract the county held to purchase the property. Camden County is suing Union Carbide about its decision to back out of the property deal in a separate lawsuit in state courts. 

Camden County has spent $11 million pursuing the proposed commercial spaceport on a 4,000-acre tract of land in southeast Georgia, which officials say will drive economic development in the region. The county commission approved an options contract to purchase the land from current owner Union Carbide Corporation back in 2015.

But opponents say firing small rockets from Spaceport Camden over populated areas of Little Cumberland Island, just off the coast, would pose a major safety risk. Earlier this summer, an independent consultant found the project would pose a low safety risk. 

The National Park Service – which operates the Cumberland Island National Seashore – and environmental organizations worried about the spaceport’s impact on a fragile coastal ecosystem have also expressed reservations about the project. 

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision within the next six months. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Walker raises more than $12 million in third quarter

Herschel Walker

ATLANTA – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker raised more than $12 million during the last three months, the former University of Georgia football star’s campaign reported Wednesday.

That’s less than half of the more than $26 million incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., raised during the third quarter.

But the Walker campaign boasted his haul during July, August, and September was the largest quarterly total for any Republican Senate candidate during this election cycle.

“My team and I have traveled to every corner of Georgia, and everywhere we go, people have made it clear that Raphael Warnock has sided with [President] Joe Biden and left them behind,” Walker said in a statement released Wednesday.

“The people are so fired up for a new warrior in Washington that they have literally put their money where their mouths are.”

Walker’s campaign manager, Scott Paradise, criticized Warnock for running “a gutter campaign focused on lies and personal attacks.”

The Warnock campaign has bombed the airwaves with TV ads calling attention to Walker’s violent past, including holding a gun to the temple of his ex-wife Cindy Grossman.

Walker has responded that he was suffering from dissociative identity disorder at that time, a mental illness from which he said he has recovered.

Walker’s campaign reported Wednesday that the challenger had more than $7 million cash on hand as of the end of last month. A day earlier, the Warnock campaign reported $13.7 million cash on hand through Sept. 30.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.



Kemp campaign reports almost $29M in third-quarter fundraising

Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp raised almost $29 million during the last three months toward his reelection effort, far surpassing the $6.8 million the incumbent Republican brought in during the second quarter.

The huge haul guarantees Kemp will have plenty of money for TV ads, mailings, signs, bumper sticks and whatever else he wants to do before the Nov. 8 gubernatorial election to publicize his bid for a second term.

Most of Kemp’s campaign fundraising during the third quarter – about $20 million – came from his Georgians First leadership committee.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation last year authorizing the creation of leadership committees, which can raise unlimited contributions on behalf of top statewide and legislative candidates. 

Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, thanks in part to her national celebrity, was able to outraise Kemp through the end of June. Abrams raised more than $22 million during the second quarter, including $12.3 million brought in by her leadership committee, One Georgia.

The Abrams campaign has yet to report her third-quarter fundraising totals. The state-imposed deadline for candidates for state office to file third-quarter fundraising reports is Oct. 7.

Kemp also listed $19.6 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30, up significantly from the $7 million his campaign reported at the end of June.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.