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Two weeks off, except for those on the appropriations committee

POSTED: February 24, 2010 4:00 a.m.

By now a lot of you know that most members of the General Assembly are taking a two-week recess while the rest of us work on the FY 2011 Budget.

  

For the first time in anyone’s memory, the House and the Senate Appropriations Committees will be meeting in joint session to study cutting $1 billion from a budget already slashed to the bone. Usually the Senate and House disagree on portions of the budget, but this time we must work together. We were sent to the Capitol to govern; it is time to govern — time to make those difficult decisions. 

  

It’s not popular for any elected official in city, county, school board or state government to make tough budget decisions during these hard economic times.

  

It is, however, the necessary and responsible thing to do. Georgia is a “balanced budget” state. We are prevented by our state constitution from operating in the red, unlike California, which is drowning in a sea of red ink caused by a $40 billion deficit and run-away spending.

  

The governor’s proposed 2011 budget given to the House last month was based on a projected 4 percent growth. That budget also included projected revenue of about $345 million from a 1.6 percent tax on hospital revenues and another $300 million from selling off Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, or GEFA, loans. These are loans that the state has made to local governments to fund sewer and water projects. 

  

Many members of the House Appropriations Committee don’t agree that the economy will have a 4 percent growth rate, nor do we like the hospital tax or the selling of GEFA loans.

  

The selling of GEFA loans may provide a one-time, short term, quick fix for a portion of the revenue shortfall, but what about the future? Dahlonega Mayor Gary McCullough was just named to the GEFA Board of Directors, and I plan to discuss the idea of selling off GEFA loans with him.

  

By the time the General Assembly reconvenes on March 8, the February revenue data should be available. We will determine if changes need to be made to the 2010 Amended Budget. Any changes to the amended budget will have carry-over effects on the 2011 Budget.

  

Some interesting pieces of legislation passed the House last week, and here are a few noteworthy examples. Current law requires Georgia State Patrol cars to be painted in a two-toned color scheme if they are involved with enforcement of traffic laws? HB 981 would allow them to be a single color, thereby reducing their cost by as much as $700 per vehicle.

  

HB 977 prohibits the use of state funds and limits the use of local funds to increase the salary of a school superintendent or other administrators during a school year in which the local board furloughs teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, etc.

  

There have been numerous articles concerning the difficulty U.S. citizens have participating in elections, especially if there are run-offs. House Bill 665 provides, for the 2012 primary and general election, a pilot program for the electronic transmission of absentee ballots by military and overseas citizens.

  

I have had a number of property owners complain that land acquired by the government through condemnation was never put to the use for which it was acquired, and government sold the land to a third party. 

  

HB 703 provides that when previously condemned property is being disposed of by a government authority, that authority must contact the original owner’s next of kin should the original owner be deceased.

  

This will allow for either the original owner or the next of kin to have first right of refusal to repurchase property acquired through condemnation.

  

Last week I read an article in the “The Gainesville Times” by Tom Crawford, “Lawmakers should go where money is.”  He was praising DuBose Porter, House minority leader, for his claim that rogue businesses were stealing $1 billion in sales taxes from the state. “Georgia loses buckets of tax dollars every year because of retailers who charge the sales tax on their customers but keep the money rather than send it to the revenue department.” 

  

I am not denying that some retailers are guilty of these charges, but let’s look at the claim. Only small businesses stand a chance of getting away with not remitting sales taxes to the state. If we look at businesses with $1 million in sales, our 4 percent state sales tax rate would yield $40,000 from each one. One billion dollars divided by $40,000 gives us 25,000 businesses — 25,000 businesses with sales of $1 million not paying any sales tax. That’s hard to believe.  

  

I was fortunate to have three young people from Lumpkin County as Pages last week:  Jennifer and Dustin Scarbrough and Cody Wood.  I want to thank them for their hard work in delivering many messages to the Representatives in the House.

  

I will be at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega for Saturday morning breakfast with constituents at 8 a.m. on Feb. 27 and March 13.

  

On March 6 at 8:30 a.m., I will be at Ryan’s Steakhouse (Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400) in Dawson County for Saturday morning breakfast. As we get deeper into the session, I will let you know the rest of the Saturday breakfast schedule.

  

Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capitol Avenue, 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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