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Assault on local control doomed tax plan

Legislative update

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POSTED: March 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson has talked for nearly a year about an ambitious plan to eliminate property taxes in Georgia.
When his original proposal was exposed as a tax shift to 175 new sales and use taxes, he trimmed down the legislation to only a removal of ad valorem taxes on vehicles.
But in the end, the speakerís effort failed because of a provision that was a problem throughout the discussion    the planís seizure of control from cities, counties and school boards to meet their communitiesí needs.
SR 796, the proposed constitutional amendment that the speaker was using to push his proposal, failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority when the House voted on the measure Wednesday. The legislation would have artificially capped assessments and property tax revenues without any regard for local needs or resources. The authority of locally elected officials to make local decisions would have been severely restricted.
While I applaud the sentiment of bringing any form of tax relief to Georgians, it must be done in a more responsible manner than this proposal. For example, schools could have been forced to halt bus service, school nurse programs and other critical departments under the revenue cap provision.
The Georgia Association of Educators, the Georgia PTA, Georgia AARP, state School Boards Association, Superintendents Association, Georgia Municipal Association, the Association of County Commissioners in Georgia and many other representative groups were opposed to this measure.
Unfortunately, a majority of House members did approve another assault on local schools by adopting HB 1209 on Wednesday. The so-called ìInvesting in Educational Excellenceî would do nothing to restore the more than $1.5 billion in basic funding cuts imposed by the Perdue Administration on schools the past six years.
Instead, in the name of spending ìflexibility,î the bill would require local schools to meet academic performance goals, with new, severe consequences for falling short    including turning control over to private management or forcing the schools to become charter schools. The proposal now moves to the Senate, where hopefully it will be improved or rejected.
The House approved two more water-related measures Tuesday. HB 1226 would help speed up the permitting process for constructing and securing funding for reservoirs. New reservoirs would have to comply with the new statewide water management plan, and inter-basin and intra-basin water transfers would be strictly regulated under the legislation.
HB 1281 would prevent city and county governments from imposing water restrictions that are stronger than the stateís. I voted against this measure because, again, it gives the state too much control over decisions that are better made at the community level by locally elected officials.
Other legislation approved by the House and sent to the Senate this week includes:
HB 1245, which would impose new controls over costs associated with the stateís indigent defense system and would require that death penalty cases be heard by active superior court judges rather than senior judges.
HR 1276, which calls for a constitutional amendment to give forest owners a property tax break of up to 50 percent if they leave their land undeveloped.
HB 1286, which would require that Veterans Day be a school holiday in Georgia.
HB 336, which would increase the penalties for drunk drivers and establish a felony DUI offense upon a fourth conviction.
Tuesday will be the 30th day of the 2008 session and is ìcross-overî day, which is the last day bills can be sent from the House to the Senate, or vice versa, for consideration this session.

Williams (D-Midway) represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372, 404-326-2964, 912-977-5600 or by e-mail at al.williams@house.ga.gov.
 

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