Stories you may have missed around Georgia last week

Stories you may have missed around Georgia last week

Here are some of the goings-on around The Peach State last week that you may have missed.

Kemp proposes record $32.5 billion budge

Gov. Brian Kemp released a $32.5 billion fiscal 2024 state budget proposal Jan. 13 that’s heavy on spending for education and gives Georgia teachers and state employees $2,000 raises.

The spending plan, up more than $2 billion over this year’s record budget, is built on an all-time high state surplus of more than $6 billion.

“The … budgets I am presenting herein ensure that we continue to meet our financial obligations as a state while also investing in the education, health, and safety of our citizens to maintain our position as the best state in the country to live, work, and raise our families,” the governor wrote in his annual budget message to legislative leaders.

Kemp is calling for fully funding Georgia’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) k-12 student funding formula. The QBE was not fully funded when Georgia was suffering leaner economic times, but full funding has been restored during the last several years.

The governor’s budget also earmarks $61.2 million to fully fund the HOPE Scholarship program for the first time since then-Gov. Nathan Deal and the legislature cut HOPE benefits more than a decade ago due to growing demand for scholarships combined with rising tuition costs.
After raising teacher salaries in Georgia by $5,000 during his first term, Kemp is calling for another $2,000 raise for teachers and other certified educators. State employees also would see their pay increased by $2,000.

Kemp is fulfilling a promise he made on the campaign trail last year to provide a second $1 billion state income tax rebate on top of the refund Georgia taxpayers received last year. He also is proposing $1.1 billion in property tax relief to homeowners.

“These actions will put real money back in the pockets of hardworking Georgians facing unforeseen jumps in property values and record-high inflation,” the governor wrote.

Korean solar panel manufacturer expanding Georgia operations

A Korean solar panel manufacturing company announced plans Jan. 11 to expand an existing operation in Dalton and build a new plant in Cartersville.

The commitment of more than $2.5 billion by Hanwha Qcells, the largest-ever single investment in solar manufacturing in the United States, will create 2,500 jobs.

The project is a direct result of new solar tax credits contained in the Inflation Reduction Act a then-Democratic controlled Congress passed last summer, President Joe Biden said in a prepared statement.

“Hanwha’s Qcells investment will create thousands of good-paying jobs in Georgia, many of which won’t require a four-year degree,” Biden said. “It will bring back our supply chains so we aren’t reliant on other countries, lower the cost of clean energy, and help us combat the climate crisis. And, it will ensure that we manufacture cutting-edge solar technology here at home.”

Hanwha Qcells opened the Dalton plant in 2019, the largest solar manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere, generating 750 jobs. An expansion already in progress will create another 470. The new facilities in Dalton and Cartersville are expected to bring Qcells’ total Georgia workforce to more than 4,000 by the end of next year.

The Qcells expansion is just the latest clean-energy project Georgia has landed. Last year, Hyundai broke ground on a $5.5 billion electric vehicle manufacturing plant near Savannah – the largest economic development project in the state’s history – and announced a joint venture with SK On to build a $5 billion EV battery plant in the Cartersville area.

Solvay Specialty Polymers is investing nearly $1 billion in an EV-battery parts plant in Augusta. FREYR, a Norwegian battery company, has announced plans to build a $2.6 billion plant in Coweta County.

Fulton special grand jury in Trump case completes work

The Fulton County special grand jury investigating whether former President Donald Trump should be criminally prosecuted for allegedly interfering in Georgia’s 2020 election results has now delivered its final report. 

But it’s not yet clear what the report says and whether it will be made public. Though the special grand jury recommended that the report be published, Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney still must decide whether Georgia law requires a special grand jury’s report to be published.  

Arguments about publishing the report are scheduled for Jan. 24.

The case centers around Trump pressuring Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes for the then-president during a lengthy phone call in January 2021. Democratic President Joe Biden had carried Georgia’s 16 electoral votes the previous November by a margin of 11,779.

Completion of Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion put back a month

The first of two new nuclear reactors being built at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle will go into service later this year about a month after anticipated, the Atlanta-based utility announced Jan. 11.

Vibrations of pipes within the cooling system were discovered during startup and pre-operational testing at Unit 3, the company reported in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

As a result, Georgia Power now projects the startup date for the project will be put back to April rather than March.

Delaying the project beyond the first quarter is expected to raise capital costs for Georgia Power up to $15 million per month.

The projected schedule for Unit 3 depends primarily on the progression of startup, final component, and pre-operational testing, which may be affected by equipment or other operational failures, according to the SEC filing.

The new Plant Vogtle reactors are the first to be built in the U.S. in more than 30 years.

The two reactors were originally expected to go into service in 2016 and 2017, respectively. But the work was delayed by the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric, the original prime contractor on the project, as well as pandemic-related disruptions to the construction workforce.

The delays caused a series of cost overruns that more than doubled the original expected price tag of $14 billion.

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

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