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Carter: Shutting back door taxes
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To our readers: State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the Legislative Session. The session began Jan. 12 and is expected to last until the latter days of March.

Day 16 (Feb. 10): After rapidly completing 15 days of the session, we’re slowing things down now by meeting only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for the next few weeks. The current schedule has us completing 35 of the constitutionally allowed 40 days by the end of March and saving five days for the end of June in order to monitor the budget and make any necessary adjustments with stimulus money that may come from the federal government.  

The only controversial bill to be debated on the House floor today is HB 212 that extends the existing sales tax exemption of jet fuel. In recent years, most tax bills have included a sunset clause that would force the bills to come back to the Legislature for approval in order to be extended. This bill was originally aimed to help Delta Airlines, a Georgia-based company, at a time that the company was struggling and in bankruptcy.

Following the lead of most states that exempt major carriers located in their states from this tax, the House votes in favor of the bill by a 132-31 count. By extending this tax break, the exemption allows Georgia to remain competitive while attracting and retaining major airlines at the Atlanta airport.  

Day 17 (Feb. 11): Much of the talk on the House floor today centers around HB 143 that was passed by the House on Jan. 30 and by the Senate on Feb. 10. This bill would require the state to fund, for at least this year, the Homeowner’s Tax Relief Grant (HTRG) that would provide a property tax exemption worth $200 to $300 a year for individual homeowners.  

After passing the House, a vote was taken to “immediately transmit” the bill to the governor. This procedural measure would have required the governor to either sign or veto the bill within six days, giving the Legislature time to override a veto. Although the Senate did pass the measure, they did not vote to “immediately transmit” the bill to the governor, giving him the opportunity to sit on the bill until the current fiscal year is passed and all but eliminating the grants for this year.  

Another tax exemption with a sunset clause is brought up for renewal today with HB 116, a bill that extends the sales tax exemption on aircraft parts used for repair of aircrafts not registered in the state of Georgia. This exemption is important to ensure that companies such as Gulfstream in Savannah remain competitive since the states bordering Georgia have this exemption.

After some debate, the bill passes easily and is sent on to the Senate.   

Day 18 (Feb. 12): After two straight days of granting tax breaks to businesses in Georgia, we finally get around to trying to give relief to our state’s taxpayers today.

HR 1 is fiercely debated for about four hours today before failing to garner the necessary two thirds majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment. This much needed protection for property owners would have limited property assessment increases to 3 percent a year or the inflation rate, whichever is less.  

Similar to Stephens-Day in Chatham County and Carter-Burns in Effingham County, this would have stopped “back door” tax increases where tax bills go up because of higher assessments even though the local millage rate remains unchanged.

However, not all is lost today as HB 233 is passed and will immediately impose a two-year freeze on property assessments. Under this bill assessments can’t rise for the next two years above what they were on Jan. 1, 2009, unless the property is improved or rezoned. During this time property values would have to be re-assessed and, if market values continue to fall, property assessments would also fall.  

HB 233 now goes to the Senate for further action and, although obviously disappointed by the failure of HR 1 to garner the necessary votes for passage, HB 233 is seen as a major victory for those of us who are dedicated to eliminating “back door” taxes.                                  

Rep. Buddy Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 508, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-0213.