As the Peach State moves past 2021, State Affairs takes a moment here to reflect on what events of the past year are most likely to have a continued impact on Georgia’s people, politics and policy in 2022.

From the pandemic to tax policy, a lot has impacted citizens across the state.

Georgia's nursing shortage is one of many issues the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened over the last nearly two years. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)


COVID-19 

The pandemic is still with us. Despite pleas from public health officials and Gov. Brian Kemp to get vaccinated, just 51% of Georgia’s eligible population has received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

With the Delta variant over the summer and the Omicron variant this winter, the Peach State has broken records for cases, hospitalizations and deaths, surpassing the grim milestone of 30,000 dead by New Year’s Eve. 

A shortage of medical professionals, in particular nurses, has only made matters worse. Over the summer and again in December, Kemp has had to call in the Georgia National Guard to help relieve hospitals.

Read State Affairs’ coverage of Georgia’s nurse shortage.

The pandemic extends beyond the realm of just public health, as matters of policy have become political flashpoints in a polarized state. Tensions have spilled over in school districts over mask mandates and the debate over critical race theory, an academic concept focusing on systemic racism in the U.S. that has faced attack from many conservative leaders since the 2020 election cycle.

Amid that debate, State Affairs took a close look at how policy was implemented at Georgia’s public colleges and universities for teaching online classes and the battle between faculty and administration, and why the cost of online classes was going up beyond the cost of in-person tuition in many cases.

Read State Affairs’ story on online tuition and the ongoing debates at universities over online teaching.

Georgia has also lost thousands of preschool teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, as early childhood educators have left those low-paying jobs to work in retail and other sectors.

Read State Affairs' coverage of why many Georgia preschool teachers have left for jobs at Walmart and Target.Money challenges have prompted many Georgia preschool teachers to leave the field for better-paying retail jobs. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)


American Rescue Plan Act 

The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in massive spending bills from Washington D.C. to help states recover. Georgia stands to receive billions of dollars in federal recovery money over the next several years since the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021. So far just a small portion of that money has been spent and State Affairs will continue to keep a close eye on that. 

Kemp alone has nearly $5 billion in ARP funds to spend at his discretion. How much of that will be spent may be decided in 2022.

Read State Affairs' story on how Georgia's governor has nearly $5 billion in pandemic relief to spend.

The way this money is spent can be a huge boon to Georgians, able to help the state’s ailing road, water, sewage and broadband internet infrastructure.

Check out our coverage of Georgia’s big-dollar broadband expansion.

The American Rescue Plan was also supposed to provide essential emergency rental assistance (ERA) for thousands of Georgia residents facing tough times as a result of pandemic-related job loss or hardship. But State Affairs revealed that the state has been painfully slow to distribute those funds, falling far behind most other states in the union. 

Read our story on Georgia’s ERA distribution woes here.

State lawmakers called the situation “inexcusable.” We’ll follow what potential actions they plan to take next year.

Georgia's redistricting process ranked among the most highly charged political debates on 2021. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)


Redistricting

What is redistricting? Some will call it gerrymandering, but it’s the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing the maps that determine who your state representatives, senators and U.S. congresspersons are to account for changes in population revealed by the census. In 2021 the process wrapped up in November, following the publication of the 2020 census data. 

In Georgia, it seems almost certain that Republicans will retain control of both chambers of the General Assembly that they've had for the better part of the decade. So even if Kemp loses his governorship in the 2022 election this November, state Democrats would likely still face divided government. 

What’s more, it’s all but certain that Republicans will also gain a U.S. Congressional seat in the state, having radically altered the boundaries of Georgia’s sixth congressional district, currently held by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath.

For all the details on Georgia’s redistricting results, check out our coverage here.

Despite redistricting making certain electoral outcomes more predictable, 2022 being an election year and Georgia a battleground state means there’s going to be a lot of noise. At State Affairs, we’ll do our best to bring you insights on the races that matter most and the policy debates that ought to be heard.

Many Georgians are facing eviction even though the state has had access to roughly $550 million in rental assistance since March 2021. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)


Income Tax and Elections

The 2022 midterm elections in November are set for fireworks with candidates and incumbents competing for statewide offices from governor to labor commissioner, sparking fierce primary battles among party rivals. Republicans from Gov. Brian Kemp to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger face stiff competition from primary challengers pushing to win over conservative voters with hard-right platforms, including by eliminating Georgia’s income tax that funds nearly half of the state’s $27 billion budget. State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, speaking to State Affairs at the launch of the right-wing Freedom Caucus in the Georgia legislature, said that eliminating the income tax may well be a priority for the group. 

The state individual income tax raised more than $14 billion last fiscal year, roughly equal to how much Georgia spends on public k-12 education. It’s on track to exceed that amount this year. Recent calls to repeal the income tax from heavy-hitter candidates such as former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who’s running for governor against Kemp, and state Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), who’s vying for lieutenant governor, could spur fierce election-year debate over taxes in the upcoming legislative session that starts Jan. 10.

“Georgians know how to use their hard-earned money better than we do,” said Miller, noting state revenues saw a roughly $2.2 billion surplus last fiscal year. “In order for Georgia to continue to build on its reputation and attract top businesses and talent, we must do more to limit the financial burden we place on our citizens.”

Powerful voices in the General Assembly have warned against repeal. The state’s top budget drafter, Georgia House Appropriations Chairman Terry England (R-Auburn), said repealing the income tax would drive up the state sales tax from 4% to potentially 14%, hitting Georgia’s lowest-income residents the hardest. Full repeal would also leave Georgia with a hole to fund around $7 billion in tax credits that recipients have not yet claimed, England said.

“It sounds good, but in practical application it’s much harder to do than what a lot of the folks have put thought into,” England said in an interview with State Affairs. “Sometimes, I think some of the thoughts get out there before there’s a whole lot of homework done on what the practicality (is) of how you would actually handle doing it.”

Boosting access to high-speed internet will be a top priority for local and state officials across Georgia in 2022. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)


Social Justice and Crime

The trial of Ahmaud Arbery's convicted murderers turned a page in the ongoing national and statewide conversation about racial justice and law enforcement accountability. That conversation is far from over, and State Affairs will continue to dig into where matters of state policy and taxpayer dollars are at play.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) will have investigated over 100 police shootings in 2021. All the while, efforts to collect meaningful data on the use of force by local law enforcement remain an elusive challenge in the Peach State. 

State Affairs revealed that only a small fraction of law enforcement agencies statewide contribute to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s national use-of-force database. 

Read our full coverage of why so few local police agencies have submitted use-of-force data.

Meanwhile, the latest Atlanta mayoral election proved that rising violent crime in the metro area and across the state, and the need for police action that can address it, will continue to be important policy issues. Most observers expect crime to be a major talking point in the 2022 elections. 

Kemp established a statewide task force that is starting to deliver results. Voters may decide at the ballot box whether those results are satisfactory or not. 

Check our story on the GBI's gang task force here.

State Affairs also revealed that hundreds of sex predators across the state have had their ankle monitors removed. Will lawmakers address this new shortfall in the ability for law enforcement to monitor the state’s most dangerous predators?

Get up to speed on why many sex predators have had their ankle monitors removed in Georgia.

We hope you’ll continue to read State Affairs in 2022 for meaningful insights and stories on what Georgia’s state government is doing. Happy New Year!


What stories do you want to see covered in 2022? Share your thoughts by writing to Alessandro@stateaffairs.com and Beau@stateaffairs.com.