Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday that the state's 2020 budget contains a "healthy down payment" on his promise of a $5,000 raise for the state's public school teachers.
That budget includes a $3,000 raise for teachers and other certified school employees starting July 1.
Kemp spoke at the Chatsworth-Eton-Murray County Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting at the Cohutta Springs Conference Center in Crandall.
State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, said after the meeting that the teacher pay raise shows how much the governor and lawmakers value the work teachers do, and he said it will have a particularly big economic impact on rural counties.
"In all but our largest counties, the school system is the largest employer, so this is going to give those communities a big shot in the arm," said Jasperse, who represents parts of Murray, Gordon and Pickens counties.
Chamber President and CEO Phenna Petty said Murray County Schools is the largest employer in Murray County, with about 825 employees, though not all of them are certified employees.
The budget also contains additional money for school counselors.
Kemp gained a big round of applause when he noted that lawmakers passed the LIFE (Living Infants Fairness and Equality) Act, which he said will "protect the innocent unborn." That bill will ban most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is at about six weeks. Kemp is expected to sign the bill.
Kemp also touted his creation of the Georgians First Commission, aimed at cutting red tape and regulations that he says keep businesses from growing.
"Entrepreneurs create jobs," he said.
Dalton businessman David Renz is a member of the Georgians First Commission.
"There are 18 members from around the state," Renz said after the meeting. "Gov. Kemp first got into politics because red tape was driving him crazy. Our mission is to make Georgia the No. 1 state for small businesses. We've got a year and a half. We are trying to identify regulations that are unneeded. We represent a broad range of businesses, from developers to trucking companies to fuel companies. He established the commission with his first executive order after he came into office." Kemp took office in January.
Kemp recently signed the Patients First Act, which will allow the state to request federal waivers to Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, which supporters say will allow the state to tailor those programs to better serve Georgians.
But while Kemp said he is proud of what he and the General Assembly have done, he said he is frustrated that Congress has failed to pass a disaster relief bill that would help Georgia farmers hurt by Hurricane Michael, victims of last year's wildfires in California and those harmed by recent flooding in the Midwest. Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a relief bill earlier this month, saying it didn't do enough to help Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria in September of 2017.
"That makes it even more frustrating," Kemp said. "They (Puerto Rico) have gotten tens and tens of billions of dollars already. I think everybody supports doing more for them. I think they need it. But it shouldn't hold up what we are trying to do for our farmers. It's just ridiculous."
The Chatsworth-Eton-Murray County Chamber of Commerce presented the following awards at its annual meeting on Wednesday:
• Business of the Year: Peeples Funeral Home
• Business Man of the Year: Lee Harris
• Business Woman of the Year: Jean Cantrell
• Chairman's Award: Maria Bradley
• Delegate of the Year: Donna Flood
• Humanitarians of the Year: Pam Bishop and Elizabeth Robinson