Stacey Abrams

Desired Office: Governor
Party Affiliation: Democrat

Stacey Abrams and her five siblings grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi with three tenets: go to school, go to church, and take care of each other. Despite struggling to make ends meet for their family, her parents made service a way of life for their children – if someone was less fortunate, it was their job to serve that person. This ethic – and her parents’ unwavering commitment to providing educational opportunity for their children – led the family to Georgia.
Mayors' Day 2018 - Candidate for Governor Stacey Abrams
Jan 22, 2018
Remarks from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle  at the Gubernatorial Candidate Forum at Mayors' Day 2018.

GMA's Question(s) to the Candidates

Cities are challenged to provide greater services with fewer dollars every day. While cities bear the brunt of meeting these needs, state and federal partners should also provide support to keep Georgia moving forward. As Governor, how would you address the various funding needs of municipal governments across the state?

Abrams's Response

State-level leaders have lofty expectations of our municipal governments, but haven’t been consistent in providing local governments the support and funding that they need  to do so. To continue moving Georgia forward, we must take a 21st century approach to helping cities meet the 21st century needs of their residents. As Governor, I will ensure that cities have the tools necessary to provide world-class public services and build critical infrastructure, which will include maintaining a workable tax base and drawing down available federal funding. I cosponsored the Streamlined Sales Tax legislation with Rep. Larry O’Neal in 2010 and the ecommerce sales tax legislation with Rep. Jay Powell that passed this year. As governor, I will continue these bipartisan efforts to ensure the sales tax tracks our economy.

In the latest infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil  Engineers, Georgia received a “C” rating for infrastructure overall, and a “D” rating for transit, dams, parks, and stormwater infrastructure. We cannot reasonably expect businesses, young people, and families to make Georgia their home if they do not have faith in our state’s critical infrastructure. As Governor, I plan to bring a statewide vision to public works projects, but with the understanding that local governments are best-suited to understand where investment would be most useful. I support the grant and loan programs to local governments offered through GEFA, DOT, One Georgia, DCA, and DNR.

In 2015, I led the Democratic Caucus to work with Republican leaders to pass landmark investment in transportation, securing the first state commitment to transit funding as part of those negotiations. Though we’ve made substantial progress on expanding transportation options in recent years, we still have our work cut out for us, and I will continue to make transit a priority as government. Attracting a company like Amazon would be a boon for our state’s economy, but in order to lure out-of-state businesses and residents, we need a transportation system that can accommodate increased volume. As Governor, my focus on transit will be two-fold. First, the state must play a strong role in funding Metro Atlanta transit solutions and ensure an  approach that is truly regional, but still intimately involves local authorities in the decision-making process. Second, we must recognize that transit is a statewide issue. We have a growing senior population, paratransit needs, and connectivity challenges in every part of the state. We need thoughtful, forward-looking transit investment not only in the metro Atlanta area, but also across Middle, South and North Georgia. I would also continue to pursue federal transit grants, such as those used to expand MARTA bus-rapid transit in the Atlanta Metro area.

Water issues challenge our metro areas and our farmlands, and the ongoing water wars with our neighbors threaten our ability to plan for the future. Viable solutions involve improved water infrastructure, such as reservoirs and local water/sewer systems, in addition to conservation and efficiency efforts, and increased agritech innovation led by Georgia’s brightest minds. As Governor, I will provide the leadership necessary to understand and solve the permitting challenges of our farmers and the drinking water challenges of our communities. I support local control of water and wastewater utilities, and support the implementation of a statewide water management plan that allows local governments necessary flexibility.

Our 21st century economy depends on reliable and affordable high-speed internet access, and it’s wholly unacceptable that 638,000 Georgia households still live in areas without access to broadband. I stood with cities to protect municipal broadband in 2013 and will continue to fight for the expansion, rather than restriction, of internet access. Prosperity should not be reserved solely for densely-populated urban areas. When rural areas lack internet access, students pay the price, patients pay the price, and businesses pay the price. I will make expanding broadband a priority. Governor Deal signed SB 402 into law, which starts the process for increasing access to internet throughout Georgia. It will be up to our next governor to see these initial efforts through. I support the Georgia Department of Transportation’s proposal to expand broadband along right-of-ways. To fund such an expansion, I would explore opportunities for innovative public-private partnerships, which have proven successful in the transportation sector. In addition, my administration would capitalize on the billions of dollars in federal grant money that the Department of Agriculture, FCC, and National Telecommunications and Information Administration have made available for rural broadband expansion.

GMA's Question(s) to the Candidates

City officials are tasked with the responsibility of maintaining quality of life within their communities, while also ensuring there are ample resources to respond to future growth and development. In order to continue the legacy of strong cities driving the state’s economy, Georgia’s cities need to preserve the tools that built that legacy. As Governor, how would you work to ensure that cities are equipped with the necessary resources to continue being economic engines within the state?

Abrams's Response

My expertise in tax and fiscal policy, as well as my experience as Deputy City Attorney for Atlanta, will inform my policies to ensure that Georgia cities can continue to thrive and grow. First and foremost, I will maintain our state’s AAA bond rating by protecting the stability of our tax system overall. Georgia has a diverse, balanced revenue structure that ensures our commitments can be met over the long-term. I will not dismantle our income tax system, which would signal fiscal irresponsibility to creditors and send our rating downward. We can make adjustments throughout our revenue system, but eliminating almost half of our revenue system should be a non-starter for state leaders, because it would destabilize the system and its effects would reverberate throughout our state, including our cities.

As Governor, I will empower communities and cities to invest in the infrastructure that they need most. During my public and private sector careers, I spearheaded efforts in the development, investment and consulting for complex infrastructure projects in Georgia, including transportation, energy, facilities, and water, and I will bring that first-hand experience to the governor’s mansion. I will work with legislative leaders to add flexibility to the local option sales taxes for transportation, so they can be infrastructure SPLOSTs and to expand opportunities for multi-county projects. Where new business models and technologies gain footholds in the market, like ridesharing and short-term rentals, I will collaborate with counties and municipalities to figure out whether modifying the tax code in response is appropriate.

In order to achieve parity across the state in important areas like transit and broadband internet access, as Governor, I will ensure that the state government will invest and collaborate to make it happen. Regarding transit in particular, we must recognize that transit is a statewide issue where we need thoughtful, forward-looking investment and governance processes on a regional level.

GMA's Question(s) to the Candidates

Home rule is the ability of cities to make local decisions about local issues and must be preserved and defended against those who would insist on “one size fits all” government. Cities have certain home rule powers vested in them under the Georgia Constitution. Legislative attempts to restrict municipal control are common at the General Assembly. Municipal governments are the elected body closest to the people. Cities must retain the ability to operate in ways that closely reflect the wishes of the community and ensure public safety for their residents. As Governor, how would you work to preserve the home rule powers of municipalities?

Abrams's Response

I believe that Georgia needs a governor with statewide vision, but this should be tethered to a collaborative approach that recognizes and respects the unique character of every community. The principle of home rule is enshrined in the Georgia Constitution, and as Governor, I intend to protect that principle. For example, I wholeheartedly oppose recent proposals by the General Assembly to take over control of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The City of Atlanta has developed, maintained, and grown the airport for more than forty years; and as Governor, I will work closely with the city to expand this critical partnership and foster greater transparency to ensure that Georgia remains home to the world’s busiest airport.

While I appreciate that we have a process in Georgia where all voices can be heard and communities can exert some control over their future, I do have concerns about  recent incorporation efforts. Often, less-affluent communities are the ones left behind by this process, and hasty incorporation can create unstable revenue systems. We must keep in mind the financial health of all of our communities and protect our bonding ability in particular.

While in the state legislature, I voted against “campus carry” legislation, which permits the legal carry of firearms on college campuses and is opposed by Georgia university administrators, educators, and the majority of Georgia residents. As Governor, I would work to repeal this law, and would apply the same rationale to the question of firearms within city-owned facilities. Firearms have no place in schools or in government, and any efforts by leaders at the state-level to assert otherwise are reckless and dangerous.

Regarding public rights-of-way, while municipalities should maintain general control of public rights-of-way, state and local governments need to collaborate and streamline permitting processes so Georgia can enhance its regional infrastructure, like transit and broadband telecommunications, without being hindered by an opt-in, opt-out system for all localities. We must upgrade our infrastructure so Georgians can access the information and economic resources they need to thrive, whether they live in an urban, suburban, or rural area of our state.

GMA's Question(s) to the Candidates

Strong partnerships create a stronger Georgia. City leaders want to be partners with county, state, and federal governments. All levels of government should work together with a spirit of cooperation and recognize the strength each has in providing appropriate services. As Governor, how would you facilitate intergovernmental partnerships, and what role do you think municipal governments can and should play in Georgia’s growth?

Abrams's Response

One of the best ways to know what someone will do in the future is to look at what they’ve done in the past. I began my career as a city attorney, and I received the Champion of Georgia Cities award as a state legislator because I stood with cities. My record includes:
  • Co-sponsoring bipartisan bills to streamline sales tax, collect online sales tax, and provide sovereign immunity to cities.
  • Fight preemption legislation, including municipal broadband preemption.
  • Expand and protect municipal revenue options.
As governor, I will continue this partnership with local governments to ensure all Georgians have the freedom and opportunity to thrive.

Part of serving as governor is listening. Georgians face complex challenges across our state. They deserve a leader who will show up, listen, stand up for their issues, and then report back on the work being done. As Governor, I will hold two listening sessions in each congressional district in my first year. These town halls will be open to the public and to press, offering an opportunity for me to hear your priorities, ideas, and questions. I will appoint a Director of Constituent Services to link citizen concerns and requests with my administration. I will also launch a Georgia Performance Dashboard so Georgians can easily see where we stand on important measures in education, health, transportation, financial management, and more. Georgia has performance measures for state agencies, but we need to improve the accessibility of
these features for all Georgians. Finally, I will publish my daily schedule, including when we use a state plane, so the state knows how I am working for Georgia and how I steward taxpayer dollars.

As a long-time public servant, I understand that every level of government has unique strengths and weaknesses, and believe that we should leverage these comparative advantages through collaborative intergovernmental partnerships. I also recognize that actions taken by one level of government have real and tangible effects on the other levels, so we must be sure that state-level actions which burden local governments are enacted only when there is a clear and compelling reason.

The Constitution says that punishment is for the convicted, not the merely arrested, and Georgia must be on the right side of the law. The collateral consequences of our justice system have wide-ranging impacts, including loss of jobs, children sent into foster care, loss of housing and more people shifted from work to the social safety net. Criminalizing these minor offenses also places an onerous burden on local law enforcement, local courts, and other relevant government bodies. Instead of safety, we get higher unemployment and less community stability.

Georgia cannot turn away from our progress, and we have much more to do. The cost to our families and our economy is too great. My vision is a Georgia built on fairness and where poverty is not a life sentence. As Governor, I plan to decriminalize poverty by eliminating cash bail, improving pretrial services and supervision, increasing the availability of diversion programs and accountability courts, and administering civil penalties rather than criminal penalties for certain traffic offenses and possession of marijuana.

Likewise, I do not agree with state-level immigration enforcement mandates.  Immigration is a federal issue, and the state should not get involved in turning immigration into a weapon against its people at any level, for any reason; nor should they be burdening local governments with the responsibility of locating and incarcerating undocumented immigrants who have not committed a crime.

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