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Governor, don’t eliminate our Homeowners Tax Relief Grant

POSTED: January 21, 2009 4:00 a.m.

When Roy Barnes was governor, and the state economy was riding high, he instituted the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant, which started as a $2,000 homestead exemption credit against the assessed value of property and topped out a few years later as an $8,000 credit.

  

During our current economic downturn, Governor Perdue is considering eliminating HTRG as one of several options to balance the already tight state budget. 

  

What does this mean in real tax dollars?  I’ll use one Lumpkin County property tax bill as an example. This homestead property has a fair market value of $359,000. The Governor’s Homeowners Tax Relief Grant credit for 2008 was $189.12. The $189.12, shown on the tax bill as a credit, is a combination of credits from the state of $1.14, the county of $61.66, the schools of $94.72 and the city of $31.60. That’s almost $200 in taxes the property owner did not pay in 2008. 

  

Gov. Perdue has put a hold on 2008 (FY 2009) HTRG money for every city, county and school system in the state. Since the tax bills have been sent out and paid for 2008, the counties will be forced to send out additional tax bills to recoup that money unless the Legislature overrides the Governor’s decision. The additional cost of sending out new tax bills is an unacceptable burden on local government and taxpayers.

  

What can we do about this? The front page of Saturday, Jan. 17, The Times (Gainesville), reports an interview with me as follows: “State Rep. Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega, a member of the budget writing panel, said Friday that many of his House colleagues are balking at Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposal for reducing the budget, including elimination of a $428 million grant to Georgia homeowners.”

  

“There are lots of representatives who are saying they will not go along with the governor on the amended budget. They want to force him to turn loose of the 2008 money.”

  

“Amerson said his home county of Lumpkin depends on homeowners for 92 percent of its property taxes. Lumpkin County is waiting for over $400,000 from the state. For their budget, that’s a lot of money.”

  

Unlike metro cities with large commercial bases, small communities need the HTRG to make ends meet. High taxes based on “best use” rather than “current use” of our mountain land have already forced many older citizens from their homes.

  

It is unlikely that there will be state HTRG credits on your 2009 local property tax bill because the governor has not included that in his proposed budget.

  

Now, let’s look at some of the things the governor told us in his State of the State Address last week. At the core of his 2010 proposed budget is a $1.2 billion bond package that will create an estimated 20,000 jobs and features projects benefiting every corner of the state. In addition to new construction at our universities, technical schools, local school systems and libraries, it will include harbor deepening at the Savannah port and needed improvements at state facilities.

  

Gov. Perdue also outlined a proposal to restructure the Department of Human Resources. It calls for the creation of a new Department of Behavioral Health, which will include all mental health and addictive disease programs. The bill also establishes a Department of Health, a combination of the public health, oversight programs and current functions of DHR.  Remaining social services, such as Developmental Disabilities, Aging, DFCS and Child Support, will come together under a reconstituted Department of Human Services.

  

The governor will introduce legislation to ask those who receive Medicaid payments to help fund the system. The budget will reflect, and an accompanying bill will propose, a 1.6 percent fee on hospitals and health insurance plans, not only to fill the hole in Medicaid, but also to do what the healthcare community has asked of the governor’s administration.

  

This proposal will significantly raise Medicaid rates, particularly for hospitals. In conjunction with the SuperSpeeder legislation, it will provide $60 million for trauma to sustain and expand the state’s trauma hospitals, EMS and trauma physician infrastructure.

  

For the 2009 Session, Gov. Perdue is proposing merit pay legislation that will award teachers who show evidence that their classroom instruction leads to increased student achievement. Also proposed is differentiated pay for math and science teachers. 

  

New legislation will ensure responsible leadership at the school system level by defining what citizens expect from Georgia’s school board members.

  

It will give the state the ability to replace board members who aren’t serving in the best interests of their students. 

  

Other 2009 initiatives include implementation of Georgia’s first Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan to help our state balance water use and growth. Appointments to the Regional Water Councils will soon be announced.

  

We want to ensure that those selected will represent a good cross-section of Georgia talent — both in their personal experiences and geographically. These councils are going to put our Statewide Water Plan in action.

  

On the energy front, this summer, we will host more than 15,000 energy innovators for the biggest bio-life science conference in the world — BIO 2009. 

  

This is an outstanding opportunity to showcase Georgia’s progress in life sciences, and our potential to help heal, fuel and feed the world. As Chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, I will be heavily involved with this conference. 

  

The governor has an ambitious agenda for this Legislative Session.

  

Let me know what you think. You can meet with me during one of my Saturday morning breakfasts with constituents. My Jan. 24 breakfast will be at 8 a.m. at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega.  My Jan. 31 breakfast will be at 8:30 a.m. at Ryan’s Steakhouse at SR 53 and 400 in Dawson County.

  

Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334, (404) 657-8534, fax (404) 463-2044, e-mail amos.amerson@house.ga.gov.  Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.

 

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