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Hill: Downward spiral continues
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Georgia’s January revenues continued a downward trend coming up short by $262 million compared to January 2008. This dropped the year-to-date revenue collections to a -4.8 percent. The current revenue estimate for FY2009 is based on a 4.4 percent decrease, so there is a deficit building. This is a serious deterioration that is certainly validated by the doubling of unemployment claims and an 8 percent unemployment rate.  

Individual income taxes were down 13.3 percent. Overall sales taxes were down 8.4 percent. Fuel taxes continued to decline with excise taxes falling by 1.7 percent and fuel sales taxes decreasing by 3.1 percent. Corporate taxes declined by $30 million or 117 percent.  

YTD individual income taxes are showing a 5 percent decrease. Sales taxes are down for the year at -4.2 percent. Fuel taxes in both categories are negative, excise taxes by 7.6 percent and sales taxes by 3.7 percent, for a total of $32 million.

While the federal stimulus bill may offer some relief, there are sober decisions to be made concerning the 2009 amended and the 2010 budgets as well as revenue outlook.  Widespread furloughs and severe service cutbacks or suspensions are now within the realm of possibility.         

Senate action last week
• SB 39: Would provide for a 1 percent sales tax, subject to voter approval, to be used to fund transportation projects in various transportation districts within the state. This legislation would call for the creation of two types of transportation districts, a metropolitan transportation district and a special transportation district. The MTD would encompass the geographical area of each metropolitan planning and development commission activated prior to Jan. 1, 1972. A STD can be created by the governing authorities of two or more contiguous counties or by the governing authority of a single county. The district board of the metropolitan planning and development commission would manage the agenda of the MTD.  

In a special transportation district, the cities and counties would meet to develop a list of projects and sign an intergovernmental agreement which would contain each project’s estimated dollar amount and the procedures for distributing and allocating the proceeds.  The TSPLOST (transportation special local option sales tax) bill would generate up to $850 million in funding each year for the metro area and up to $1.2 billion for the entire state.  SB 39 passed the Senate on Feb. 3.   

• SB 83: This legislation would give homeowners a “double” homestead exemption of $4,000. The present exemption is $2,000 and has not been changed since its inception in 1937. This exemption is subtracted from the assessed value of a home before the tax evaluation is computed. This legislation includes an exemption amount increase on a year-to-year basis by a percentage equal to the cost-of-living index. This is estimated to save homeowners $40-$50 annually on their property taxes and is subject to a statewide referendum.

• HB 143: This legislation would mandate payment of the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant in FY09 and make it subject to an increase in state revenues by at least the cost of living before being paid in future years. HB 143 passed the Senate on Feb. 6 with a 29-24 vote in favor of the bill.     

• SB 13: Would change sentencing options for those convicted of murder. Currently in the state, a person convicted of murder can receive life imprisonment with the possibility of parole or the death penalty. SB 13 offers an alternative to those sentences by allowing life imprisonment without parole.  

• SB 61: Would define and establish the oversight and regulation of life settlement contracts. This legislation would prohibit anyone from acting as a provider or broker for an owner without first having obtained a license from the insurance commissioner.    

Legislation introduced
Bills of interest that have recently been introduced in the Senate:
• SB 77: Would impose and levy a special district tax within such districts for the purpose of providing all or a portion of the salaries for police officers and firefighters.

• SB 90:  Basically a voucher bill that provides the option for parents to enroll their child in another school within their local school system, a school in another local school system, or in a private school under certain conditions.  

• SB 91: Would impose a surcharge of $5 for each customer who enters an adult club.

• SB 93: Would enact a high school principal incentive pay program based on academic performance.

• SB 101: States that a manufacturer or seller of drugs and/or medical devices shall be immune from civil liability for any defect in the design of a drug or device if the drug or device was approved for safety and efficacy by the FDA.

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