Casey Cagle is launching his campaign for governor with ambitious promises: A $100 million tax cut in his first 100 days and 500,000 jobs in his first term.
In his campaign headquarters in an office building off of Chamblee-Tucker Road in Atlanta, the three-term Republican lieutenant governor, Gainesville native and best-known candidate to enter the race thus far talked last week with The Times about his run and laid out his platform: jobs, regulatory reform, infrastructure and workforce development
Cagle is set to officially announce his campaign to supporters today after several “surprise” musical acts in Duluth’s 708-seat Infinite Energy Center theater.
After 12 years as lieutenant governor, Cagle is presenting his candidacy as a continuation of the work of fellow Hall Countian Gov. Nathan Deal. Cagle said history will “reflect very positively” on Deal’s two terms, adding that he’s “been honored to be by his side to help him accomplish those things.”
“I don’t run from that — I embrace it,” Cagle said.
He’s one of three Republicans in the race so far, along with Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who also has won a statewide election, and state Sen. Hunter Hill.
Cagle seeks to separate himself from other GOP candidates with promises of an economic boom in Georgia, his pitch heavy on optimism.
“It is my goal and my task to ensure we are reaching our full potential as a state to where every person in Georgia has the opportunity to experience the American dream,” he said.
Leaning on his experience with Invest Georgia, he said he would put more cash into recruiting “billions of dollars” in venture capital to the state and envisions Georgia as the “Silicon Valley of the South” as part of his promise to see 500,000 jobs created in his first term.
Another 500,000 jobs would represent about a 10 percent increase, or 2.5 percent growth each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s a safe bet for an economy expected to grow at about 4 percent each year.
He plans to install “economic liaisons” in every department of state government to help businesses through the regulatory process. He’s also promising regulatory reform and a “pro-business mindset” in state government, but doesn’t plan to slash his way through the red tape.
“It’s not that we necessarily need to stop regulation,” Cagle said when asked to name a few regulations he would cut to make Georgia more business friendly. “It’s really about making sure that it is more efficient, more effective and done in a very timely way. If you’re delaying a project, time is money. We’ve got to stop that.”
Pointing to the collapse of Interstate 85 and its effect on Atlanta’s transportation network, Cagle said he would put more money into infrastructure and draft a 10-year “strategic plan” for road and bridge replacement in the state. He’s also promising “significant money” to expand rural broadband and new programs to help struggling rural hospitals and hinting at more dollars for public transit “particularly in metro Atlanta and beyond.”
That platform of infrastructure and other spending would be coupled with a $100 million tax cut passed in his first 100 days as governor.
The cut would come in two packages: An increase in the personal exemption to make the first $12,000 in income for a family of four tax-free, and an increase to the standard deduction for families. Both would be tied to inflation to put “government on a diet,” Cagle said.
It’s a traditional Republican pitch: Put more money back into people’s pockets and they’ll stimulate the economy. In the same vein, he said the tax cut won’t complicate his spending proposals because of economic growth in Georgia.
“As a state we’re growing in terms of revenue about 4 percent, roughly,” Cagle said. ”That equates for a little less than a $1 billion – roughly $1 billion in growth. We’re only talking about 10 percent of what the growth year over year looks like in terms of a tax cut.”
The son of a single mother, Cagle has made education a pillar of his tenure as a state leader. In his platform, he’s calling it “workforce development.”
He touted his involvement in the creation of Georgia’s 40 college and career academies, the expansion of high school vocational education and apprenticeships and dual-enrollment programs for high school upperclassmen.
“In my term as governor, the first four years, we will bring access to every single student in Georgia to a college and career academy,” Cagle said.
Laying the groundwork for his current run for governor, Cagle published his “comprehensive vision” for public education in his 2016 book, “Education Unleashed.” He told The Times he supports primary, public education and intends to “declare war on dropout rates” and take the state’s high school graduation rate to 98 percent.
With Georgia racking up court victories, Cagle said he wouldn’t budge on the water wars with Florida and Alabama.
The decades-old legal fight between the states is in its last stages at the U.S. Supreme Court. With all three states set to have new governors in 2018, Cagle said he would be open to compromise but said Georgia’s regimen of water conservation has worked.
The other governors “have to demonstrate good faith. They have to be willing to negotiate something that is fair,” Cagle said. “I will never, ever negotiate a water deal for Georgia that is going to put us at a disadvantage from a competitive standpoint. I do believe that the courts are going to continue to rule in our favor because the facts are on our side.”
As lieutenant governor, Cagle is sitting on the traditional launch pad of successful gubernatorial runs, said Charles Bullock, a leading political science professor at the University of Georgia.
There’s a long 12 months between Cagle’s launch and the May Republican primary and 18 months before the November 2018 election. But Bullock said Cagle’s terms as lieutenant governor mean he’ll likely be the front-runner in the race.
Even so, he said he expects the Republican field to continue to grow in the wake of Deal’s departure.
“Nobody took on Nathan Deal when he ran for re-election. So you’ve got eight years of pent-up ambition, which is being released right now,” Bullock said.
Bullock noted that changing demographics in Georgia and an increase in voters likely to swing Democratic might push the state back into “purple” territory in the coming years, but for now Republicans “still have the inside track.”
It’s going to be a high-dollar race for Georgia that, depending on the popularity of President Donald Trump and the national GOP, could involve more national issues. With the economy improving, Georgia Republicans could find themselves parsing subtle differences leading up to May.
“Often in a primary election, when the candidates tend to agree on way more issues than they disagree, different personalities will become important,” said Douglas Young, a University of North Georgia professor and organizer of the school’s Politically Incorrect Club.
In the first poll of the 2018 race involving Cagle, Public Policy Polling found 48 percent of Georgia voters knew Cagle’s name and that he had a thin lead in matchups with two prominent state Democrats, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter, neither of whom have declared they will run.
Cagle won his first race for lieutenant governor with 56 percent of the vote, his second with 54 percent and his third with 58 percent.