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State tax collections for September went in the right direction
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The news on Georgia’s fiscal crisis is like recent rains — welcomed, but not enough to fix the problem.

The state reported Wednesday that tax collections for September were up 4.5 percent, the first increase in four months. Revenues remained down 2.6 percent — or $110 million — for the fiscal year, though.

Two of Hall County’s state lawmakers welcomed the news, which was somewhat unexpected.

"I was expecting negative numbers based on the three previous months," said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, a vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "I’m just glad to hear something positive for a change. Of course, it makes me wonder what the next month will bring."

Georgia’s sluggish collections this year prompted Gov. Sonny Perdue to order state agencies to cut their budgets by 6 percent to meet an estimated $1.6 billion shortfall for the fiscal year that began July 1. State lawmakers worry the deficit could be even larger.

State Rep. Ben Harbin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the numbers leave him "cautiously optimistic."

"It looks like we may be finally hitting the bottom," Harbin said.

But he said uncertainty in the wake of the $700 billion congressional bailout makes it too soon to say for certain.

One of the largest increases was in personal income taxes. Rogers said he thought revenues might have been bolstered by quarterly payments of income taxes to the state.

For September, most of the state’s key economic indicators showed signs of a tentative comeback.

The state’s sales tax climbed 10.6 percent.

Income tax rose 3.9 percent, and corporate income tax crept up 0.6 percent.

"The cost of everything, including food, is up, and that could be why the sales tax numbers are up," Rogers said.

The taxes collected on motor fuel dropped 1.2 percent amid soaring gas prices and shortages at the pumps.

The state has, so far, collected $4.1 billion for the first quarter of the fiscal year.

State Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said the sales tax increase is a indication that people are once again spending money.

"That’s a positive sign," Hawkins said. "We’re not out of the woods, and we have a ways to go, but we’re moving in the right direction."

Hawkins said for the first three months, state revenues were down about $109 million.

"We were down 7 percent at the end of August, and every little bit helps," he said.

The Associated Press
contributed to this report.

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