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A difference in language
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As state legislators continue to consider various bills on issues ranging from illegal immigration to dealing with convicted sex offenders, there's an awful lot of silence coming from Atlanta on the state of property tax reform.

That’s too bad, since there finally seemed to be the political will in Atlanta to help homeowners who have been paying the price in taxes for the coast’s rapid growth.

Not surprisingly, those who depend on tax dollars to run local government across Georgia have been opposed to most of these measures. Many met with legislators in Atlanta on Feb. 26 to get their points across and some of their objections make sense. But it's becoming increasingly clear to us that those in government and those on the paying end of the equation are talking two different languages.

For example: homeowners resentful of the increased burden placed upon their paychecks may see as long overdue a measure such as Senate Resolution 796, which is calling for an amendment to the Georgia constitution that basically would freeze the valuation of property and limit tax increases. While not necessarily a tax cut, it is a tax freeze.

But the Association of County Commissioners calls limits on taxation "revenue caps." And therein lies the problem, we think. What one group defines as a tax is being defined by the other as revenue.

Here, from the group’s Feb. 28 Legislative Update, is a list of reasons why they think "revenue caps" are a bad idea.

10 Reasons Revenue Caps Are a Bad Idea

- Being constrained by an artificial cap makes no sense given varying local needs and priorities. Local officials are elected to manage counties, school boards and cities and to make revenue and budget decisions.

- Legislators continue unfunded mandates unabated (jail per diems, indigent defense, health departments, sex offender registry, etc.).

- No way to prepare for the future; capital investment will dry up.

- Economic development incentives will disappear.

- The inflation adjustment allowed by SR 796 only allows for the status quo. No funding for improvements or to cover real cost increases (fuel up 37 percent last year).

- No way to pay for costly immigration reforms.

- Deferred maintenance will result in greater costs over time (example: Atlanta sewer system).

- Leaves no funding to prepare for or respond to emergencies or natural disasters.

- Commissioners cannot control lawsuits filed by various individuals, organizations and governments.

- Quality of life services such as libraries, parks, and greenspace will suffer funding shortfalls.

- Source: ACCG

As we said earlier, the ACCG has some valid points. Unfunded mandates aren’t fair; the cost of providing services is going up; there’s no way government can control lawsuits and no one can foresee what the future may hold in terms of emergencies.

But there are other items in the list that from a taxpayer standpoint may be harder to understand, beginning with the ACCG’s referring to the cap as "artificial." Try telling that to a homeowner who has seen his taxes double or even triple in recent years. There was nothing artificial about that − and a resulting cut or limit would be equally real to the taxpayer.

In addition, responsible families have had to make hard financial choices in recent years and are dealing with many of the same issues as local government. Perhaps the folks in the ACCG, whom we believe are well intended, should ask those families how they deal with such pressures.

From our experience, it’s usually called a budget − and learning how to lower expenses when necessary. If the ACCG wants help in figuring out how to do that, we’re sure there are many families in coastal Georgia who would be willing to help them out.

Contact your local state representatives and senators: Rep. Ron Stephens at (404) 656-5122 or 966-5665; Rep. Bob Lane at (404) 656-5138 or 764-6813; or Sen. Eric Johnson at (404) 656-5109 or 443-1577.

Bryan County News

March 1, 2008

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