Prior to the 2008 legislative session, I wrote that the main topics up for consideration this year would be the 4 T’s — Taxes, Transportation, Trauma and Thirst (as in water). While this proved to be true and all 4 T’s dominated the session, not all were resolved as we had hoped or as they will be in the future. Here’s a look at the final tally.
Taxes: After nearly a year of tirelessly crisscrossing the state pushing the GREAT plan, Speaker Glenn Richardson scaled back his plan considerably, settling on a proposal to eliminate the ad valorem tax on automobiles. The so-called birthday tax would be eliminated and local governments would instead be reimbursed by the state for their lost revenues. Tied into this plan was a proposal to cap residential and commercial property taxes as well as adding a $10 fee to car registrations to pay for trauma care in our state.
After being brought to the spotlight by the speaker, other state leaders proposed their own tax savings proposals beginning with Gov. Sonny Perdue who wanted to eliminate the .25 mill portion the state collects on property taxes.
While this would have represented an approximate $94 million savings to taxpayers, the governor later backed off of his proposal, citing a slowing economy and decreased revenue growth.
Not to be outdone, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and the Senate came up with yet another proposal for saving taxpayers money by suggesting a 10 percent state income tax cut over the next five years. The 2 percent cut per year proposal came out late in the session, never gained momentum and therefore was never seriously considered.
Of course, in the end no tax cut proposal passed, leaving the citizens with no savings and therefore no extra cash to help stimulate Georgia’s sagging economy.
Transportation: Another disappointment came in the area of transportation where, after months of hard work by the chairmen of the House and Senate transportation committees, no resolution was found to our state’s increasing needs.
Holding out hope until the end, a final compromise bill was narrowly defeated in the Senate in the waning hours of the session. After passing the House easily, the constitutional amendment that would have authorized planning regions to hold referendums on a penny sales tax that would have paid for transportation projects fell three votes short of the required two-thirds majority in the Senate.
Although it was entirely unintended, developments within the Department of Transportation (DOT) since the session ended may lead many to be thankful no new transportation funding mechanisms were passed by the legislature.
Trauma: Many in the media are erroneously reporting that the legislature did not fund trauma this year. This is simply wrong as the ’08 supplemental budget contains $58.5 million for trauma. What the legislature failed to do was to identify a dedicated revenue source for trauma.
A last minute compromise to add a $10 fee onto automobile tags to fund trauma fell through, as did a proposal to direct the .25 mill the state collects on property taxes toward trauma.
While some have suggested that the immediacy of trauma funding was diminished with the funding in the ’08 budget, identifying a dedicated revenue source remains a top priority of the legislature.
Thirst: The much-anticipated statewide water management plan that will guide our state into the future was adopted this year. This much studied and scrutinized plan gives better tools to our state departments and local jurisdictions to work in cooperation with one another in preparation for meeting future increased demands for water.
We also addressed the need for new water reservoirs by empowering the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission to fund a significant portion of the permitting costs needed to establish and expand reservoirs meant to pull Georgians through future droughts.
All in all, while we still have much work to do in order to resolve the 4 T’s, a great deal of progress was made and a lot of groundwork laid by this legislature for future successes.