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Political Reporter’s Notebook: Mayor Adjusts Housing Trust Fund After Budget Backlash

Plus, Warnock adds millions to campaign war chest as potential showdown with Walker looms.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens assembles his Affordable Housing Strike Force on May 11. Dickens plans to contribute $7 million from his proposed budget to a fund for affordable housing initiatives in the city. (Atlanta Mayor’s office)

Another pivotal week in Georgia politics has come to an end, and there’s a lot to talk about.

The state’s U.S. senators tried and failed to advance an abortion-rights bill on Capitol Hill in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Speaking of senators, Raphael Warnock recently hit another campaign fundraising milestone ahead of his anticipated general election matchup against GOP nomination favorite Herschel Walker.

And Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens reverses his position on a key affordable housing program, which initially wasn’t included in his proposed city budget.

Here’s a rundown of the political news you need to know heading into the weekend.

Dickens changes course on affordable housing fund after backlash

The mayor’s office told reporters on Thursday that he intends to add a $7 million contribution from his proposed budget to a trust fund for affordable housing after receiving blowback from advocates for not including it in the original draft.

The added resource request increases Dickens’ proposed affordable housing investment from $58.7 million to about $65 million.

Atlanta City Council in December agreed to establish the “Building the Beloved Community Affordable Housing Trust Fund,” a recurring annual endowment that sets aside 2% of the city’s general fund for affordable housing every fiscal year.

Addressing the rapidly rising cost of real estate in Atlanta was one of the issues Dickens emphasized during his mayoral campaign. Housing advocates criticized the mayor following the May 2 release of his proposed budget, which didn’t include money for the fund.

“For this to be his first budget, to make a step backwards, is extremely disappointing,” Georgia State University professor Dan Immergluck recently told WABE after serving on Dickens’ transition team. 

A spokesperson for the mayor cited inflation as the reason the fund wasn’t included in Dickens’ original budget proposal. The language included in the law that created the trust fund says the city can choose not to set aside revenue for the program during annual budget cycles when inflation grows faster than the city budget.

In April, inflation in the Atlanta metro area was up more than 10% when compared to the same time a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dickens’ initial budget proposal dedicated local and federal funding to cost-of-living raises for city employees, as well as bonuses for Atlanta police officers.

“We heard loud and clear the importance of devoting funding in our new budget to this cause,” Dickens told reporters Thursday. “You don’t have to twist my arm to do more with affordable housing.”

Warnock adds millions to campaign war chest 

The balance of power in the U.S. Senate could be decided by whoever wins the anticipated general election matchup between Democratic incumbent Warnock and GOP front-runner Walker.

It appears Warnock’s campaign supporters know that.

The 52-year-old freshman senator raised an estimated $5.6 million between April 1 and May 4, according to a special Federal Election Commission filing submitted Thursday.

More than 113,000 donors have given funds to Warnock’s campaign, the filing shows, giving him an average of $37.63 per submission.

Warnock helped his party win control of a hyperpartisan Senate during the 2020 election cycle when he made history by becoming Georgia’s first Black U.S. Senator. But he’s spent most of this year polling behind Walker, who was endorsed by Donald Trump in September.

Warnock finished the first quarter of 2022 with more than $25 million in campaign funding.

That was the most money ever raised in the first quarter of a U.S. Senate race, according to Warnock’s campaign team. FEC records show he’s raised more than $67 million for the 2022 election cycle, more than any other U.S. Senate candidate in the country.

Rejected abortion-rights bill could hurt Black women in Georgia

Advocates say a potential Black women’s reproductive health crisis is brewing in Georgia after the U.S. Senate declined on Wednesday to advance a federal abortion rights bill.

The Senate voted 49-51 against advancing the Women’s Health Protection Act, which, if passed, would have enacted a federal law protecting abortion rights across the nation.

The measure took on added significance last week after a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion on a Mississippi abortion-rights case signaled the high court’s conservative majority is on the cusp of overturning Roe v. Wade.

If that happens, it would allow individual U.S. states to write their own abortion laws, paving the way for conservative-led state legislatures, including Georgia’s, to enact their own abortion restrictions or outright bans.

That would have a major impact on Black women in Georgia, who received 65% of the state’s reported abortions in 2019, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.

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