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House votes to temporarily freeze property assessments

Legislative update

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POSTED: February 18, 2009 11:29 a.m.
The House of Representatives voted Thursday on two pieces of legislation that would take revenue decisions out of the hands of local government by freezing or limiting annual property assessment valuations.
HR 1 would have placed a cap of 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, on assessment increases for both residential and commercial property (unlike the Kemp-DeLoach-Williams legislation here in Liberty County, which protects only homeowners' property). As a proposed constitutional amendment, it needed 120 votes in the House for passage and failed on a vote of 105-67.
HB 233, however, needed only a simple majority to move on to the Senate, and it passed 110-63. This legislation would place an immediate moratorium on assessment increases for two years.
I voted against both proposals. While our residential property tax system needs some reform, this mandate simply forces local governments to raise millage rates, reduce vital services and lay off employees, including police officers and firefighters. Our already underfunded public schools would be especially harmed by this restriction on local control.
Legislation was introduced last week in an effort to put additional funds into the state's shrinking coffers by streamlining government and improving the sales tax collection. HB 356 would help reduce the state's budget deficit, now estimated at nearly $3 billion after January revenue reports showing a 14.3 drop-off from last year.
The bill would transfer control over collecting sales taxes from the state Department of Revenue to local governments, allowing them to contract with private firms. Similar plans have been successful in other states, notably Alabama, which saw a revenue increase of more than $1 billion.
Every year, the Department of Revenue leaves money on the table in uncollected sales taxes. In the current fiscal crisis in Georgia, it is the time to recover this revenue and scale down government spending at the state level. Consumers are paying sales taxes in good faith, and we need to make sure that those tax dollars are collected, so that we can avoid additional cuts in services and new tax increases.
The House Transportation Committee is considering legislation that would allow voters to decide on a statewide one-cent sales tax to fund approximately $25 billion worth of transportation projects. Georgia has fallen woefully behind on highway upgrades and other transportation needs in recent years because funding has not keep up with the growing population.
HR 206 and HB 277 call for a constitutional amendment to create the Transportation Trust Fund and implement the Georgia 2020 Transportation Act, which includes a comprehensive list of specific transportation projects to be funded by the sales tax revenue. The funds would be managed by the State Road and Tollway Authority, and an oversight committee would be charged with making sure the money is spent on approved projects. The governor would have three appointments to the committee. The lieutenant governor and House speaker would have four appointments each.
The measures are now under consideration by the House Transportation and Ways & Means committees. The constitutional amendment must receive two-thirds approval by both the House and Senate and majority approval by Georgia voters in the 2010 general election. Under the legislation, the sales tax would expire in 2020.
The Senate has already adopted a different plan for transportation funding to allow counties to join together to levy a regional sales tax. The two plans will be the source of much debate the remainder of the session.
It is an honor to represent you at the State Capitol.

Williams represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House. Contact him during the legislative session at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, Ga., 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by e-mail at al.williams@house.ga.gov.


 

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