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Capping property taxes will require lobbying
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Friday, House Resolution 1, the cornerstone legislation of this session to cap ad valorem property tax increases statewide, was scheduled to make it to the floor of the House for the first time.  It didn’t make it to the House floor on Friday. 


What happened?   


Heavy lobbying by school boards, school superintendents, city governments (GMA) and county governments (ACCG) delayed it. We needed 120 votes for a constitutional amendment, but only had 108. 


The folks who tax your property put more pressure on some representatives than they could handle. This is the first fight during this session to cap ad valorem property taxes.


It’s not the last.


We have sufficient time to get the remaining 12 votes before the end of the session.


However, we can only get those votes if pressure is put on legislators across the state. Taxpayers are the largest and most effective lobbying body when they get riled up and organized.


For the last 8 years I’ve been talking about abolishing “backdoor” property tax increases that are forcing folks off their land. During these tough economic times it’s happening more often. Have you looked at the legal section of your local newspaper lately? Instead of burying the legals in the back of Section C, they are prominently displayed in Section A. You’d be surprised at who is being forced into having their homes foreclosed and sold on the courthouse steps. 


It’s not just high ad valorem property taxes that cause foreclosures. But they often are the straw that breaks the camel’s back.


Taxing authorities like “back door” tax increases because they provide cover to elected officials who can blame the increase on rising property values. Guess what folks, property values have been falling like a rock for a year or more. 


Standard & Poors/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index tumbled by 18.2 percent from November 2007. Atlanta’s prices dropped 11.2 percent year-over-year. 


When property values fall, less tax dollars are generated and taxing authorities should do like homeowners — spend less.


During these tough economic times, taxing authorities ought to support capping ad valorem property values at 3 percent. That 3 percent might just carry them over til times improve. It might also attract more businesses to locate here.


Friday, the House of Representatives delivered on their commitment to fund the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant (HTRG) this year by passing House Bill 143 and sending it to the Senate.


The bill will force the governor to release the funds he has been withholding that pay back cities, counties and school systems for the 2008 Tax Year. 


That money was appropriated by the Legislature. Make sure you lobby with State Senators and the Lieutenant Governor for them to follow the House lead. 


Counties can’t afford to send out additional tax bills for 2008 any more than you can afford to pay it after the fact.               


It is important to remember that the HTRG we may get for Tax Year 2008 will most likely not be available in Tax Year 2009.


The original HTRG legislation stated that it would be funded from the “surplus.”


Well, we no longer have a surplus, but we do have a year to prepare for increased taxes if our local taxing authorities don’t cut their spending.


HB 143 — as passed by the House — would prefund the HTRG for 2010 if the economy turns around and there is a surplus in revenue during the remainder of this calendar year. I want to remind you the HTRG credits the Governor has been withholding are not the Senior Citizen and Disabled Homestead Exemptions recently passed by the voters in Lumpkin and Dawson County. 


Nobody is messing with them.


Keep in touch with me during the Session. You can meet with me during one of my Saturday morning breakfasts with constituents. Last Saturday we had about a dozen folks show up for breakfast at Ryan’s. My Feb. 7 and 14 breakfasts will be at 8 a.m. at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega. I’ll let you know the location and dates of the other Saturday morning breakfasts in Lumpkin and Dawson County as the Session progresses.


During the Session, I can be reached at 401 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334, (404) 657-8534, fax (404) 463-2044, e-mail Or, contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.