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Senate OKs 2 property tax measures
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S.B. 83 and H.B. 143:
ATLANTA - The Georgia Senate handed homeowners a mixed bag with two property tax bills that cleared the chamber Friday.

One would double the statewide homestead exemption. The second would fund a state property tax break worth about $200 to $300 per household this year but could scrap the state-funded grants in future fiscal years.

Republicans, who backed the measures, said that the tax bills moving in the Georgia Legislature will provide homeowners with some badly needed relief.

"Overall, property tax owners are going to come out of this session better," state Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, said.

Critics argued the bills do little more than shift the burden to cash-strapped cities and counties.

"All we're doing is we're going to force local governments to raise taxes," state Sen. Steve Thompson, a Marietta Democrat, said.

The Association County Commissioners of Georgia said that taken together the bills are bad news for homeowners. They would see their property taxes rise between $200 to $300 because of the loss of the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant, which would expire at the end of June unless the revenue picture brightens dramatically.

The homestead exemption, meanwhile, would only cut taxes by between $50 and $75. That means a net increase of some $150 to $225 for 2009 property tax bills.

"The fact of the matter is that homeowners are going to be unhappy when they see an increase in their property tax bills this year because the big credit will be gone," said ACCG Executive Director Jerry Griffin.

A third tax bill introduced this session in the state House would cap the rate at which home assessments may rise. The bill has not yet been voted on.

Lawmakers on Friday voted 40-14 to boost the statewide homestead exemption from $2,000 to $4,000, effectively decreasing the amount of a home's value subject to taxes. Those who live in their homes are eligible for exemption.

The measure must still pass the House. It would also need voter approval during a special election in June.

By a narrower margin of 29-24, the state Senate also voted Friday to find $428 million to pay for the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Gov. Sonny Perdue had eliminated the money in his budget proposal to help close a budget deficit of $2.2 billion.

Lawmakers from both parties pledged to restore the funds, noting that local governments has already sent out tax bills. Unless the state money comes through they would have to ship out supplemental bills asking homeowners to cough up the extra cash.

In the future, however, the grant would be tied to the state's economic health. The state-funded relief would only continue if Georgia revenue grows by 3 percent plus the rate of inflation. In the near term, that's unlikely in the recession-ravaged state.

That prompted a boycott from some typically loyal Republicans.

"I want to fight for property tax relief not just in 2009 ... but in the year after that, the year after that and the year after that," state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, of Sharpsburg, said.

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