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Tax reform is still alive
Capitol update
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Your Georgia General Assembly is moving into the final quarter of the 2008 Assembly session as last week we completed 31 days of the no-more-than 40 legislative day session.
The final quarter is when the tough legislation is worked out and debated. In addition, the budgetary issues really storm to the front as the Appropriations Committee members move to submit a balanced budget that fulfills needs of federally mandated programs like education and Medicaid, as well as, universities, roads and other needed projects and programs.
The highlight of the week was that House members were able to reach a tenable compromise and voted to pass a tax relief package that was defeated the week before.
House Resolution 1246 was overwhelmingly adopted after modifications were made to allow voters to determine whether they wanted the tax relief in the form of a constitutional amendment. The latest version of the tax relief proposal eliminates the ad valorem taxes on auto license tags, the .25 mills in property tax charged by the state on property owners (a total annual savings of $94 million), and a freeze on property tax assessments. Because this bill is a constitutional amendment, 120 votes were needed to pass the resolution and this time it passed 166-5 and has been sent to the Senate.
As part of the removal of the auto property tax or what we call the "birthday tax", we implemented HB 1158 which places a $10 trauma charge on motor vehicle tags in the state of Georgia. The reason we call it the "birthday tax" is that your tag renewal is tied to your birthday.
The $10 tag charge would be used exclusively to help fund our state's trauma care network.  Trauma care is the hospital you need when there is an accident. Currently this state has only 4 level one trauma care units with those being in Atlanta, Savannah, Macon and Augusta. Enhanced trauma care is desperately needed in all regions of the state.
There are two points I want to make about this. First, trauma funding is essential for saving lives. Second, most of us would gladly pay $10 additional on our car tag, and NOT pay hundreds of dollars for the car tax. This legislation, HB 1158, passed 164-7.
In an effort to enhance charitable giving to private schools, we passed HB 1133 that provides an income tax credit to taxpayers who donate to "student scholarship organizations" that provide 90 percent of their funding to scholarships. As with most tax credits there are additional rules. This legislation passed 92-73.
In an effort to strengthen our regional areas of the state, we easily passed HB 1216 that essentially changes our regional development centers or RDCs into regional commissions. The purpose of these commissions is to develop, promote and assist in establishing coordinated and comprehensive land use, environmental, transportation and historic preservation planning in the state. In addition, these regional commissions would assist local governments in planning. Twelve regional commissions would be created. The bill passed 134-34.
In an effort to separate and codify theft, we have created a new offense called "organized retail theft." Organized retail theft is committed when two or more people are involved in retail property theft in large quantities over a 180-day period with the intent to resell the stolen items. HB 1346 passed unanimously.
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you. If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens ,228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at
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