Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tax Reform Expected - in Some Form; It's Really Just a Question of Whose Reform Plan Will Win over Lawmakers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tax Reform Expected - in Some Form; It's Really Just a Question of Whose Reform Plan Will Win over Lawmakers

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - It might have been inevitable, once House Speaker Glenn Richardson began pushing his idea for tax reform last year, that the issue would become a focus of the 2008 General Assembly.

Because of their ability to set the agenda, legislative leaders often have the power to make their issues the central theme of lawmakers' annual session, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

"Leaders can do that. They can make sure it becomes an issue that gets due consideration," he said.

"Due consideration" is perhaps a mild way to describe the attention focused on tax reform this session.

There is Richardson's well-publicized proposal to do away with the portion of local property taxes devoted to school funding and replace it with a broader statewide sales tax that also would cover services such as lawn care and haircuts.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, skeptical of Richardson's plan, countered with an initiative that would eliminate the relatively small state property tax, which raises about $94 million a year.

And most recently, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle unveiled his plan: A cap on how much someone's property taxes can grow from year to year when their rates don't technically increase by a cent.

CAPPING ASSESSMENTS

Cagle and Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, plunged into the issue with an amendment to the Georgia Constitution capping the growth of property-tax assessments that many leaders blame for fueling the anger against the unpopular levy.

There are two elements that determine a homeowner's property-tax bill. The first is the tax rate approved by a local government. The second is the assessment of the value of the property.

Because of Georgia's booming population and the housing market, which has cooled in recent months after years of robust growth, property values began to inch higher and then shoot up in some areas of the state.

That caught those homeowners who have been living at the same address for years, even if they have done little or nothing to add onto their home or cause it to increase in value.

"There's an inherent unfairness to that," Rogers said. "We want to try to rein that in."

Cagle and Rogers would cap the growth in assessments for tax purposes at 2 percent for residential property and 3 percent for other types of property. Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, has pitched a similar proposal that would tie the growth to inflation.

The property's assessed value would rise to the fair-market rate once it was sold.

OTHER APPROACHES

But Alan Essig, executive director of the think tank Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said capping property taxes doesn't really get at the problem of people who can't afford their tax bill.

"It still doesn't relate property taxes to income," said Essig, whose organization supports tax reform targeted at low- and middle-income Georgians. …

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