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Tax, budget issues dominate General Assembly

Different proposals float around as legislature winds down

POSTED: April 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The Georgia General Assembly goes back to work today with just six days left in their 40-day session.

The final stretch comes as House and Senate members seek a consensus on what form of tax relief might gain final approval. The House and Senate differ greatly in their plans: one would benefit car owners and the other would cut the overall income tax rate. Aside from the tax cutting, is a proposal for a regional special purpose sales tax for transportation. The tag tax and the sales tax would go directly to voters through a constitutional amendment. The income tax cut would have to be signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue, who has already shown a lack of support.

Also to be done is a compromise on the fiscal year 2009 state budget, which was approved by the House last week and is now in the hands of the State Senate.

The House cut $2.4 million in design funds for an academic building at Gainesville State College.

Privately, lawmakers said the move was partly political and was aimed at Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. However, all members of the Hall County legislative delegation joined their House colleagues in voting to pass the budget last week on a vote of 166 to 1.

State Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, said he will go to bat for the funds to be restored.

"I’ve been working very loudly behind the scenes," Mills said.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said House budget writers cut the projects as leverage in hammering out the spending plan.

"The House looks at it as a point of negotiations from the House to the Senate," Rogers said. "It’s not uncommon to take budget items out, and with the lieutenant governor being from Hall County that plays into it."

Also cut was a $5 million building for Lanier Technical College in Dawsonville and a $1 million addition to a planned expansion in Forsyth County for the college.

Mike Moye, president of Lanier Tech, said he is not giving up on the two projects.

"I’m quite disappointed that they were taken out by the House, but have high hopes that before the process is over, they will be restored," Moye said.

Jailene Hunter, a spokeswoman for Cagle, also expressed optimism for the projects.

"It is always disappointing when politics get in the way of worthwhile projects, but we will be working to restore these kinds of issues in the final budget," Hunter said.

State Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, said the projects had the support of Perdue.

"The governor had proposed these projects in his budget," Murphy said. "We’re going to do everything to keep them in there."

The governor, who is leaving Sunday on a trade mission to China, expressed his concerns that the House-passed version of the budget is too high. He expressed his thoughts in a letter sent Tuesday to Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson.

"I do not acquiesce to the revenue estimate as proposed in HB 990 (the budget bill) nor will I sign an appropriations act that proposes an upward revision of my latest estimate, as amended on March 10, 2008," Perdue wrote.

Hunter, speaking for Cagle, said the lieutenant governor and the Senate will abide by the state mandate of balancing the budget.

"It is abundantly clear in the constitution that we are obligated to pass a balanced budget to provide for the ongoing needs of our state," she said. "We will not pass a budget unless it is balanced."

Meanwhile, the legislature is attempting to iron out a compromise on one of the tax cuts and the sales tax for transportation, all of which are opposed by Perdue.

The House has passed a repeal of the tax portion of automobile license plates, while the Senate has given approval to a reduction in the state income tax.While neither bill has gone through both houses of the legislature, a conference panel that includes Mills has been appointed to work out a compromise.

"Look at the people who have been asked to work this out," Mills said. "They are all reasonable people. We’re going to come out of there with some kind of agreement."

The other negotiators are House Ways and Means Chairman Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, and Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia. On the Senate side, the trio consists of Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and state Sens. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, and David Shafer, R-Duluth.

State Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said the desire for a tax cut must be weighed against the needs of the state.

"We have to be cognizant of the money that’s required to run state government," Hawkins said. "We’re not going to run it in the red."



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