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GREAT evolving
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In case you missed it during all the goings on at Christmas, it seems House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s controversial GREAT plan to eliminate property taxes has evolved into something different.

Or maybe ‘devolved’ is more apt.

There’s no doubt there’s bound to be a vast difference in perspective that means Richardson’s new version of tax relief - which now would keep some property taxes on the books but eliminate using them as a way to finance schools - could be seen as either a compromise or a sellout.

We believe it’s more in the line of a compromise.

It’s pretty clear the fuss local and state politicians have kicked up over the original plan shows Richardson will have a hard time winning the necessary support in the General Assembly to get on the ballot any tax relief that totally eliminates property taxes.

With that in mind, it’s better to get some help to homeowners rather than none and Richardson’s latest proposal appears to offer that help. Based on various news reports, and according to a Dec. 24 article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the elements in Richardson’s plan now include:

- A House resolution that would eliminate the property taxes on homes used to fund local school districts. This is a constitutional amendment, which will need to pass the General Assembly and be approved in a referendum by voter. Still, residents will get billed by their school district, though those taxes will be paid by an expanded state sales tax on services, lottery tickets and groceries. That same resolution would eliminate tax on vehicles. Owners would still get a bill from local government, but get credit from the state, which in turn would pay local governments.

-A Senate resolution will freeze the assessed values of homes at 2007 levels and put a one percent cap on increasing assessments if a home doesn’t under go a change in ownership. Houses that are sold or undergo improvements are fair game for fair market value assessments. Another Senate resolution would tie local government spending to the state inflation rate. It would take approval in a local referendum for a local government to spend more than the inflation rate.

That's not the original plan, but it remains a far cry better than no tax relief at all and Richardson deserves credit for bringing the property tax issue to the table. Without his GREAT plan, it’s unlikely politicians would be taking tax relief so seriously.

Yet there are problems with this latest version of Richardson’s plan, not the least of which is freezing property assessments at 2007 levels still seems unfair to longtime homeowners who have seen their property values skyrocket in recent years due to growth.

And what if problems with the credit crunch continue to negatively impact the housing market, causing home prices to fall to more realistic levels?

Surely, those homeowners who have had to pony up more cash when their home values were going up should be given the same opportunity to save when values drop. We hope lawmakers take that into account.

In the meantime, let’s pressure our legislators to keep taxes on the front burner and provide relief to homeowners. It’s one of the most important issues of our time.

Bryan County News

Dec. 29, 2007

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