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Tax reform trimmed; moves ahead
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ATLANTA (AP) — With just six days left in the 2011 legislative session, Georgia lawmakers on Monday pushed forward with a slimmed-down tax overhaul, with a bill that would cut the personal income tax rate but add a new levy on goods and services from auto repairs to cable television.

The Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure could vote on the 68-page bill as soon as Tuesday.

Among the key provisions is a reduction in the personal income tax rate from 6 percent to 4.5 percent. Still, it would not reduce the overall income tax burden. The 25 percent tax rate reduction would be offset by caps on some deductions that would keep the amount of income tax flowing to the state roughly the same.

The legislation would also exempt energy sold for manufacturing and mining from sales tax.

It would tax automobile repair and maintenance. The casual, person-to-person sales of cars, boats and airplanes would also be subject to sales tax, unless the sale was between family members.

And the bill would place a flat 3.5 percent communications tax on telephones, cable television, cell phones and satellite communications, to even out a patchwork of taxes.

A memo from Georgia State University's Fiscal Research Center found that, taken together, the plan could decrease tax collections by $7.2 million or increase them by $10.2 million, a range that depends on fluctuations in revenue estimates.

Joint Committee Co-Chairman, state Rep. Mickey Channell said "that's about as close to revenue neutral as you can get."

Proving the plan is revenue neutral — meaning it does not add or subtract from current tax collections — will be important to winning over legislators who don't want to cast a vote for a tax increase.

Lawmakers scaled down the sweeping recommendations that came earlier this year from an advisory panel created by the state Legislature to study the state's tax code. Among other items, the panel recommended placing the state sales tax back on groceries, an idea that was unpopular with Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike.

Lawmakers also left in place, at least for now, a host of tax exemptions, credits and breaks, such as one for film industry.

The tax changes would take effect in 2012.

Under the bill setting up the tax panel, if the joint committee approves the bill it would move directly to the House floor — bypassing the traditional trip through the Rules Committee — and it could not be amended.

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