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Legislators make final push on budget, taxes

Session ends this week

POSTED: April 9, 2011 11:00 p.m.

State lawmakers have three days to approve a budget, debate a tax overhaul and investigate immigration reform changes.

Monday marks Day 38 of the 40-day legislative session, leaving legislators little time to tackle the big issues, let alone local legislation that seems to slip through at the last minute.

Though more than 2,000 bills and resolutions were introduced this year, only a handful have reached Gov. Nathan Deal's desk, meaning hot topics such as guns and abortion likely will fall through the cracks.

"The big thing is the budget. That's the constitutionally mandated item we have to approve," said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. "That's the main thing, and then it's mostly tying up loose ends, which becomes hectic as people look to the bills they want passed."

Last week, House and Senate committees picked at details in the state's $18 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2012 and neared consensus for a tax overhaul that would lower the individual income tax rate and add sales tax to certain services.

"The last week of the session is almost like the last few days of a shopping season where everything is coming together from the past three months and going into one frantic week," Collins said. "It's the scariest week of the year because amendments are added, and so much is coming at you that you have to read quickly. Trust becomes a big issue."

The pacing becomes a frenzy as lawmakers push through their own legislation and approve bills from the opposite chamber.

"I have one insurance bill in the Senate that I'm trying to get out of the Rules Committee about reinsuring carriers that isn't anything major," said Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville. "We were told not to introduce much if we didn't have to so we could focus on the big items."

One piece of local legislation that didn't make it to the House floor was a change to Gainesville's charter.

Rogers introduced a nonbinding referendum in March 2009 to ask voters whether Gainesville should have an elected mayor rather than a position that rotates every two years. Voters approved the change that November, and Gainesville City Council members asked Rogers to introduce the change this spring.

However, Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville, declined to sign the legislation. All local lawmakers must sign on for a charter change to make it to the House floor for introduction.

"He's still concerned about the county water rates and the account service fees, so he has the right to stop it," Rogers said. "We've been working on this for two years and made the changes in the charter, but he represents the city like I do and doesn't have to sign it."

For Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, there's still time to pass legislation key to economic development.

"I'm excited about a bill that eliminates the tax on energy used in manufacturing and agriculture, which will create jobs and attract industry to Georgia," he said. "Economic development has been my main focus so far, and that one is coming up for a vote, probably on Tuesday."

Miller is ready for the final push of his first legislative session.

"It's been a grind, and you're taken aback by how much time and energy it consumes to complete the session," he said. "You're dealing with 56 people in the Senate, the entire House, constituents that you're trying to respond to daily and literally hundreds of emails and hundreds of phone calls. It's great, but we're also ready for a break."

 



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