Unlike Washington D.C., when the people of Georgia speak, Georgia’s Legislators listen.
These are tough economic times and the people of Georgia are demanding that the Legislature take action. We are in the grips of the most serious economic downturn since the Great Depression. Georgia’s unemployment is more than 10 percent and expected to peak at 11 percent by this summer.
Our state ranks No. 1 in the nation in bank foreclosures and we rank in the top five for mortgage foreclosures. Recently, Forbes magazine named Atlanta the third emptiest city in the country, due to the extreme surplus of vacant residential and commercial properties.
As a result, state revenue has been hard hit. Two years ago we passed a state budget of $21.2 billion. By contrast, our state expenditures for 2010 will likely fall to $17.4 billion and the forecast for 2011 is about the same.
Over the past few months, the House Republican Caucus has discussed many issues to determine which our constituents perceive to be the most important.
These will then dominate our legislative initiatives. Now it is time for me to tell you which ones floated to the top. Below are our top three priorities.
The No. 1 issue that most Georgians rail against is property tax. A basic requirement of any form of taxation is that it be viewed by the taxpayer as fair.
The property tax system in Georgia fails that requirement. The Republican House Caucus believes that property taxes should be based on the property owner’s investment in the property and not on an unrealized gain calculated by a local bureaucrat.
House Resolution 1 would limit property reassessments to no more than 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. In addition, we will advance legislation, which levels the playing field on assessment appeals for the property owner.
Transportation was the second most discussed issue demanding immediate action.
In order for Georgia to continue to be competitive and attract additional jobs, we must have transportation infrastructure in place that meets the growing needs of Georgians. Georgia currently ranks 49th in per capita spending on transportation. Only our neighbor Tennessee invests fewer dollars in transportation than Georgia.
It was decided that we will push forward with a regional transportation plan that allows local areas to band together to answer each of their particular transportation needs.
Funding for these projects would be through a 1-cent sales tax that must be approved by the voters of each region with the particular transportation projects outlined. This plan is still in the developmental stage and lots of questions have yet to be answered.
Education was right behind transportation, only because our education system has been improving, while the quality of our roads has been deteriorating.
In times of economic distress and declining revenues, a significant strain is placed upon local school systems to maintain educational programs and meet current state guidelines. Many superintendents have said that they could work with less if they were given more flexibility.
The cost to operate and maintain a local school system has significant differences from one part of the state to another. Despite these differences and despite the troubling economic times, we realize that education is among the most critical building blocks to a prosperous future for both our state and our residents.
In order to facilitate the ability of local systems to deal with these issues in a timely and efficient manner, the Caucus will move forward with a series of bills to provide increased flexibility for the financial management of local school systems.
A sunset provision will be included for these measures to coincide with the anticipated economic recovery by 2013.
Over the next several weeks, I will discuss other important issues you have let us know concern you. I will continue to keep you informed of the progress being made with property taxes, transportation and education.
I will be at Ryan’s Steakhouse (Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400) in Dawson County for Saturday morning breakfast with constituents on Feb. 6 at 8:30 a.m. I will be at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega for Saturday morning breakfast at 8 a.m. on Feb. 13 and Feb. 20. 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 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334; (404) 657-8534; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.