Kemp Warns Of 'Brutal' Budget Cuts, Defends Coronavirus Response

May 1, 2020

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp says next year’s budget will be “brutal” as state agencies brace for a potential 14% cut to their operations.

In a wide-ranging interview with GPB News, the governor also stood by his decision to lift shelter-in-place restrictions for most Georgians as the coronavirus continues to take its toll, citing “real-world data” and the limited nature of the state's reopening plan.

Kemp also discussed critical media coverage of the state and his decision, including his terse response to an NBC News reporter's questions about the Georgia Department of Public Health data used to justify allowing more activity to take place.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

We had 4% and 6% budget reductions; we're talking about much more than that (now).

On a memo sent to state agencies asking for a new budget proposal with 14% cuts as unemployment numbers rise

That's why the appropriations chair and our office felt like it was important to go ahead and get that guidance out to the executive branch agencies so they can start to trim.

And as you know, I've been working on this issue for well over a year now, asking agencies to figure out ways to streamline, make government more efficient, figure out how to use technology to have budget reductions coming into this year.

We had 4% and 6% budget reductions; we're talking about much more than that (now).

But in those directives, way back before all this started, I had been telling agencies, “You need to figure out a way to make your offices more efficient, to do more with less so that we can fund our priorities in the future.”

And thankfully, many of our agencies did that in the current budget that we're in. Some of them, I don't know that they really took it that seriously, but they have no choice but to do that.

Now, this is going to be a brutal budget environment that we're in.

In Georgia, we have a constitutional amendment that says we have to balance our budget, so we can't spend more than we take in. So these cuts are going to the bone unless something happens with federal funding.

On the prospects of keeping a teacher pay raise

Well, listen, I think teachers are working very hard. They know that appreciation that myself and my administration has for them.

Gov. Brian Kemp says all state agencies must make cuts. "No one will be spared," he said.
Credit Ron Harris / AP

As you know, I included in my budget this year, fully funding the pay raise that I promised on the campaign trail, but also know that, teachers are watching the news and they know this unprecedented environment that we're in right now.

I don't think many teachers would even want a raise right now, dealing with the drastic situation that we're in.

I think certainly they realize that it's going to be a tough budget environment for everyone. No one is going to be spared.

But I also know that our teachers, our administrators, and our local leaders at the educational level, they're smart, innovative, resilient people.

They're going to come up with ways to work with us to try to figure out how to deal with a situation to rebuild our economy back better than it ever was before, which is as good as we've ever had with one 3.1% unemployment.

And when we get back to that level, then I intend to fulfill my promise of that pay raise.

I'm not forcing anybody to open their business. I'm not forcing anybody to go out and patronize those businesses.

Stephen Fowler: So in the last week, restaurant dining rooms and other businesses have been allowed to open up as long as they comply with dozens of health and safety precautions that you've outlined.

But a good majority of those places have chosen to stay closed, saying it's too soon or too costly for them to do that.

And many Georgians have said that they're not quite ready to leave their homes and to start getting back to normal. My question is, is it actually worth it for a lot of these businesses to be open, if there aren't people to come and patronize them?

Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, I think that’ll be a question you need to ask the business owners that are open.

You know, I'm not forcing anybody to open their business. I'm not forcing anybody to go out and patronize those businesses. In fact, if they feel like that's not in their best interest, or they're worried about going out, I would certainly tell them not to do that.

I'm very appreciative to all our citizens that have helped us flatten the curve, given us the time to build our hospital bed capacity to get the ventilators that we need, to deal with a spike –

Which, I will let you know that we've passed our projected spike twice already.

Sure, we'll do that again a time or two, as we move through the different models that continue to be way off in many instances.

But we're following real world data. And there's a lot of people out there that in fact have gone back to work because they were fixing to lose their car. They were fixing to get foreclosed on or [have] that process be started, [or] not able to pay their rent. And I will tell you it's very hard to shelter in place when you don't have a place to shelter in.

Corey Brooks, right, orders food at a Waffle House restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, on Monday, April 27, 2020.
Credit Russ Bynum / AP

Fowler: There’s been some confusion about the order and the decisions. On one hand, most Georgians are allowed to leave their homes and do things now, but on the other you posted a video message telling people that they should really stay at home when at all possible. Can you help explain your position of what Georgians need to be doing right now? Because some people are getting the message that everything's all clear and it's all fine, and then they look at the data and say that it's not all clear and all fine.

So how would you explain your order and what Georgians should be doing right now to stay safe?

I've extended the public health emergency. That gives me a waiver power to be able to bring healthcare workers in

Kemp: Well, I'm not really sure I can answer to the confusion because I haven't heard that question from somebody. So, you might know something that I don't.

I think the orders are pretty clear. You know, we did a video that we put out where I address all the different points of the order. We put one pagers out to fully explain that, we've got other things that are in the different orders that we've had that lay that out in detail.

And we have many state agencies working with businesses and other people, if they do have questions, on guidance or compliance.

And then obviously, on the enforcement side of things, we have a lot of law enforcement individuals that are helping us make sure that people understand what the orders are. My directives to the state folks that are doing compliance is not to go out and start writing tickets, but to help people be able to comply and to work with them.

Obviously, if we have people that are going to be combative and not follow the orders and put people in danger, then we'll take a different sort of action.

But, really, it’s pretty clear. I've extended the public health emergency. That gives me a waiver power to be able to bring healthcare workers in and license them from out of state to help with staffing needs at hospitals and long term care facilities, waive certificate of need requirements so we can have excess capacity in our hospitals and many, many other things.

It allows me to continue to ramp up our testing and to have the powers to enforce the social distancing requirement – which is still in – so if you're out in public, and a gathering larger than 10 people, you need to socially distance yourself, 6 feet between individuals. We have the large gathering ban still in place. So we'll still enforce that.

We've lifted the rest of the shelter in place so people can get out and go exercise, they can go out and dine in if they would like. We're asking people obviously not to travel any more than they have to.

We’ve extended the nursing home guidelines so we can continue to double down and hunker down on that vulnerable population as we've been doing for weeks and weeks and weeks now.

And then we also kept the shelter in place for the medically fragile and elderly who are also affected more than most to the virus.

From what I did yesterday, to what's been in place the rest of this week, nothing really changed other than lifting the shelter-in-place for most Georgians, but as they go out, they still must adhere to social distancing and large gathering bans.

And then just for good measure, we are encouraging people if they're going indoors, to wear a mask to different venues, whether they're going to get their haircut, going grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, going to a Walmart, Target, Home Depot, whatever it is, it is smart, to wear a mask.

Kemp says if you have a fever, you have a cough, if you have a headache, you got a body ache, if you don't have taste or smell, go get a COVID-19 test.
Credit Kerstin Joensson / AP

On testing asymptomatic Georgians

Well, I would say our testing requirements have continued to be eased up on.

The new CDC guidance [says] basically  if you don't feel right, go get a test. I mean, if you have a fever, you have a cough, if you have a headache, you got a body ache, if you don't have taste or smell, go get a test.

So it's a lot more liberal than the original guidance that came out from them. We are testing asymptomatic first responders, healthcare workers and people that are going in the hospitals.

I think the testing gating criteria is really loosened up. I think that helped us to be able to test more people, and we'll continue to do that in the future. But we're also reliant on being able to get the test kits, and mediums and all the other supplies, swabs and other things that we need.

The White House has said that the states are going to be sent out enough testing material to do 2% of their population.

Really when you look, comparing us to other large states, our per capita testing is in a lot better shape than some of them.

But also, I think the public needs to be aware that even in places like New York, there's still a very low percentage of the population that's getting tests and you want to make sure that you're testing the vulnerable population, the first responders, the people that are working in our healthcare facilities and in other places.