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Session update on budget, transportation

POSTED: April 8, 2009 4:00 a.m.

The 2009 Legislative Session ended at midnight last Friday with the governor thanking us for a productive session.

  

All the bills that passed both the House and Senate have been forwarded to the Governor and are awaiting his signature to become law. Most of the bills not passed during the 2009 Session are carried forward to the 2010 Session. 

  

This has been the most challenging of my nine legislative sessions as your State Representative, primarily because of the current state of the economy. Lack of revenue forced us to cut $3 billion from the FY 2010 Budget as compared to the original FY 2009 Budget. Trying to get the most bang out of fewer bucks sometimes takes the wisdom of a Solomon.

  

State government is no different this year than our cities, counties and school boards. We’re all in the same boat and will get praised or tarred by our constituents with the same brush.

  

With respect to education, the budget maintains the current insurance premiums with no additional costs to teachers. There are no pay raises, but neither are there mandated unpaid furloughs. School nurses, Nationally Board Certified Teachers, and Regional Educational Service Agencies (RESA) remained as separate items in the budget, though they all took small cuts.    

  

Sen. Pearson and I worked together to ensure that the needs of North Georgia College and State University were in the final version of the 2010 Budget. North Georgia College & State University will receive money to maintain the growth in the ROTC scholars, grants and leadership programs. Additionally, the money for renovations of some classrooms is included in the bond package.

  

House Resolution 645 recognizes the Georgia Appalachian Center for Higher Education at North Georgia College and State University as the official Appalachian Center for Higher Education in Georgia. It was created to help spread awareness among youth, parents, teachers and administrators in the Appalachian communities and surrounding areas about continuing education beyond high school. This recognition will enhance the North Georgia College & State University’s role as a premier educational institution among the member institutions of the University System of Georgia.

  

The most discussed, cussed and damned pieces of legislation were those dealing with transportation. Many of us have long been unhappy with promises, and very little else, from DOT. When we looked at the amount of money directed to DOT, we decided that we were not getting full value.

  

The only legislation passed took away strategic planning and some of the appropriations from DOT. The long-range project planning will be under the Governor; however, final selection of projects and appropriation of funds will be done by the General Assembly. The DOT Board will still be selected by the General Assembly. The Board will select the commissioner and be responsible for the implementation of the plan approved by the Legislature.

  

All of the highway-funding bills were held over until the 2010 Session. There is still plenty of time, since you can’t vote on any transportation sales tax until November 2010.

  

Senate Bill 86 requires that persons shall provide proof of U.S. Citizenship prior to acceptance of voter registration. Acceptable forms of identification include birth certificates, passports, U.S. naturalization papers, Bureau of Indian Affairs card numbers, tribal treaty cards, or tribal enrollment numbers. Like the increasing need to protect our borders during these dangerous times, protecting our voting rights stands right next to it.

  

April 1 was the last day in 2009 for qualified senior citizens age 65 and over, and those permanently disabled to apply for 2009 tax year homestead exemptions.  In Lumpkin County 1,070 folks applied for these homestead exemptions and should see meaningful tax relief on their 2009 property tax bills later this year. 

  

For those folks who didn’t apply in time for 2009 tax relief, you can apply any time from now till April 1, 2010 for the 2010 program.

  

It bears repeating what I’ve written on several occasions before. The 65+ Senior/Disabled Homestead Exemptions, like all other homestead exemptions, do not cause the taxing entities to lose any tax revenue. Homestead exemptions are a tax shift from taxpayers who qualify for the homestead exemptions to taxpayers who do not qualify for the homestead exemptions. 

  

School boards, cities and counties set their own budgets and millage rates. They know how much tax revenue will come in. Homestead exemptions, in addition to other factors, simply determine how much of these tax revenues come from which taxpayers. If any official of a taxing body tries to tell you that their taxing body is losing tax revenue because of any homestead exemption, they aren’t being factually correct.

  

Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; (706) 864-6589; e-mail hamerson@windstream.net. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706)344-7788.

 

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