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From the desk of Rep. Jim Cole – Legislative update as of Feb. 16

Last year Speaker Richardson proposed eliminating a portion of ad valorem taxes in Georgia and replacing them with a sales and use tax. The proposal passed the House, but failed to make it out of the Senate. Although it failed to pass the Senate, this type of property tax reform brought the subject to the forefront of Georgia politics. This year the state House looked at other ways to limit ever escalating property tax growth, and this week we voted on two plans to do just that. HR 1 was a resolution that would have allowed Georgians to vote on a constitutional amendment in 2010. This amendment would freeze property tax values and cap reassessments at 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, for both residential and non-residential property. However, HR 1 did not receive the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass a constitutional amendment; therefore, it will not have a chance to be voted on by Georgians in 2010. The second plan, HB 233, would halt property assessment increases for the next two years. Under this freeze, property assessments in Georgia couldn’t rise above their value as of January 1, 2009 for two years, unless the property is improved or rezoned. This bill passed the House and will now go to the Senate for consideration. I supported both HR 1 and HB 233 because I think that Georgia needs long term property tax reform. These plans provide the greatest protection, predictability, and transparency in taxation for property owners in recent memory. They also prevent the backdoor tax increases that local governments have been employing. I find it incredible that property values in Georgia have declined over the last year, but property reevaluations still continue to rise. Unfortunately, we were only able to pass a short term fix. But, for the next two years property owners will not have to fear tax increases from re-assessments based on unrealized gains if HB 233 becomes law. Instead, property taxes will be based on the investment owners have made in their property. Aside from property taxes, there were also two important announcements this week. The House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee announced the creation of a new special subcommittee. The subcommittee will take a broad look at the overall agricultural standards in the state of Georgia. After the recent problems at the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Georgia, I am happy to see the House take this proactive step. I believe this subcommittee will ensure that Georgia remains a leading producer of agricultural products in the country. Also this week, Governor Sonny Perdue, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, and Speaker Glenn Richardson announced their selections for members of Georgia’s regional water planning councils. These 10 regional councils will create regional water development and conservation plans for each of Georgia’s major river basins. It is my hope that these regional councils will make certain that our water resources are used wisely as we continue to implement water planning and conservation strategies. As we continue to debate important issues, such as property tax reform, it is imperative that I hear from you. During the upcoming weeks, we will vote on a budget that may directly affect you and your family. I was elected to represent you, and for that reason I welcome your e-mails and phone calls. In the next day, I will be asking for your feedback on a number of issues that are of central focus to the Georgia General Assembly. Please do me the honor of completing my Legislative Survey so that I may better represent your interests here in Atlanta under the Gold Dome. I look forward to hearing from you soon. I will keep you informed through weekly updates. Your opinions and concerns are important to me and I consider it an honor to serve you. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Capitol office @ 404-651-7737 or via e-mail jmalcolmcole@hotmail.com.

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