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Municipal governments blast property tax plan

Officials say House Speaker’s proposal leaves unanswered questions

POSTED: October 30, 2007 5:05 a.m.

The Georgia Municipal Association dared to say the GREAT plan is not just a bad plan, but it is no plan at all.

"We’ve not seen a plan," Lamar Norton, director of government relations for the Georgia Municipal Association, said at the GMA District 2 meeting in Helen, Thursday. "We’ve seen a sound bite."

Norton, speaking on behalf of the GMA, told area city and county officials that House Resolution 900 leaves too many unanswered questions to be called a serious tax reform, and the proposal had not even been put down on paper.

Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson introduced House Resolution 900, often referred to as the GREAT plan, or Georgia’s Repeal of Every Ad Valorem Tax plan, to the Georgia General Assembly in April. The idea of the tax plan, unpopular with municipal officials across the state, is to get rid of property taxes and shift the burden to sales tax.

Richardson told the Dalton Daily News in its Sept. 4 issue that the goal of his proposed resolution is to bring lower income communities up to the median in education and government services by slowing the growth of the communities that are above the state’s median income.

Thursday, Norton told GMA members that the plan would establish mediocrity in Georgia.

"Anytime you start driving excellence down, that becomes mediocrity," Norton said. "We’re not mediocre in this state. We never have been."

Norton also said the new plan would result in an increase on sales tax from 6 to 8 percent, and would remove sales tax exemptions on groceries and medical expenses. The increase in sales taxes would cause businesses to leave Georgia, Norton said, and would be detrimental to the state’s economy.

"You’re going to see business leave the state so fast, because they can’t sell their services," Norton said.

Norton said Richardson’s tax reform plan was merely a sound bite that would appeal to the residents who are unhappy with their growing property tax bills.

"It’ll sound good in the newspapers," he said.

Norton urged local officials to assess property values every year to prevent "spikes" in property taxes.

"That way, you’ll have happier taxpayers," Norton said.

Norton also urged the city and county officials to talk to their state legislators about HR 900.

Some state legislators were present at the meeting. Amos Amerson, Dahlonega’s representative in the state House of Representatives, said that Richardson’s plan will get some of the tax burden off the homeowners’ backs.

"The primary purpose of the thing was to give us a broad base of people paying taxes," Amerson said. "The current Georgia property tax system is eating a lot of homeowners alive."

Amerson said he does not know how much Richardson’s plan is going to benefit taxpayers, but he hopes some of the questions about the plan will be answered when Republicans meet with Richardson on Nov. 5.

"Everybody’s got lots of questions," Amerson said. "I mean lots of questions."

Rep. Charles Jenkins from Union County said the plan would send the business of people who live in the border counties to other states like North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. He said he would be against the resolution even if it cost him the next election.

"I’ll go down swinging, and I’ll go down happy," Jenkins said.

Rep. Alan Powell of Hartwell, said he respected Richardson, but he did not agree with HR 900. However, Richardson had been proactive and made an issue that had people out expressing themselves.

"I am very grateful that Glenn Richardson had a titty-tat with the governor and they ain’t holding hands anymore and that he has finally, for the first time in three years, taken the initiative to bring up an issue to have some public dialogue and debate," Powell said.

Powell told local officials that their constituents are mad about property taxes, but to remind them how Richardson’s plan will not only shift the tax burden, but it will also shift the power of local decision making.

He said when their constituents started asking for sewers and parks, local officials could explain how the resolution would centralize local decisions.



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