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Closing the revenue gap
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The pieces of the revenue side of the FY2011 budget fell into place this week with the passage of HB 1055 updating various fees, including a hospital fee, but accompanied by two pieces of tax relief for Georgia citizens.

Even with those two bills, there is still a $200 million hole in the FY11 budget that is being filled mostly with other cuts to agencies. The median cut in FY11 is about 11 percent over the FY2010 budget and the cumulative median cut to state agencies is approaching 20 percent. To put the situation into focus, since the legislature adjourned last April, state revenues have fallen $1.7 billion below the level projected by the governor’s revenue estimate for FY10.

So this will be a painful and difficult budget as the reaction to the House version passed this week demonstrated. On April 21, the Senate is due to pass its version and a conference committee will meet to work out the differences.

But the real news of the week was the tax relief bills that accompanied the hospital fee bill. One portion would end the only property tax the state receives, one quarter mill. The second part of the bill would end state income taxes for senior citizens on earned income.
The one quarter millage elimination will start in 2012 and be completely zeroed out in 2016. This will save property taxpayers $81.4 million by 2016.  

The elimination of income taxes for senior citizens 65 and over will start phasing in in 2012. Presently, seniors are excluded from Georgia income taxes on their first $35,000 of earned income. In 2012, the level will increase to $65,000 per spouse, go to $100,000 in 2013 and up by $50,000 per year until eliminated in 2016.      

Passed by substitute
The following legislation was passed but amended by the Senate and will return to the House for additional consideration:
• HB 244: Changes the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA). Allows GEFA to transfer to the state any of its funds that GEFA deems to be in excess of those needed for its corporate purposes.   

• HB 1028: Amends the Georgia Forest Land Protection Act of 2008 by adding a definition for “contiguous” real property within a county that abuts, joins or touches and has the same undivided common ownership. Provides that land divided by a county line, public roadway, public easement or right-of-way, natural boundary, land lot line, or railroad track may be, at the initial application, declared contiguous; this is a one-time election to declare the tract as contiguous. The total acreage of single contiguous tracts requiring separate covenants will be utilized to determine the 200 acre threshold. When the original covenant expires, a new covenant cannot be perfected from the transferred tract unless it exceeds 200 acres.  

• HB 1284: Requires all departments, agencies and budget units that collect user fees to compile a separate annual report to be submitted to the Office of Planning and Budget showing: the statute or regulation authorizing the user fee; amount of the user fee; goods or services associated with the user fee; total amount collected in the current fiscal year; and whether the user fee has been submitted to the state treasury. This information is to be compiled and published on the Open Georgia Web site.

• HB 1322: Prohibits the public disclosure of photos, videos and other depictions compiled by law enforcement of nudity, dismemberment, or of an injured or deceased individual.

Awaiting governor’s signature:
The following legislation has passed both chambers and is now awaiting the Governor’s final signature:
• HB 903: Extends the Georgia hotel/motel tax for the purpose of funding a multipurpose domed stadium facility.

• HB 567: Provides that victims may be present in juvenile court hearings and requires courts to hear victim impact testimony. Also requires the court to make a finding regarding restitution in sentencing every accused person.

• HB 994: Authorizes the Department of Community Health to establish a schedule of fees for licensure activities for institutions and other health care related entities required to be licensed, permitted or commissioned by the department.

• HB 1015: Establishes a Georgia Criminal Gang Database and creates new crimes and higher punishments in existing statutes dealing with the recruitment of gang members and victim intimidation.  

• HB 1073: Allows eligible overseas voters to register to vote by means of a write-in absentee ballot.

• HB 1179: Requires hospitals to annually offer no-cost, influenza vaccinations for health care workers and other employees who have direct contact with patients.

If you would like additional information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly Web site at and enter the specific bill number in the top right hand corner of your screen.  
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