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Keep the pot boiling on property tax reform
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In a speech to the Atlanta Press Club on Monday in which he discussed House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s plan to abolish property taxes, Gov. Sonny Perdue said one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb.

He said Georgia’s tax system isn’t broken.

Maybe not, governor. But try telling that to folks who have seen their property taxes skyrocket in recent years for a number of reasons, but mostly because they happen to live in an area that other people find attractive.

Try telling that to people who live in Bryan or Effingham counties, where growth has driven up both the price of real estate and the need for services. Apart from some very generous and well intentioned homestead exemptions – especially for senior citizens – in Bryan County, there hasn’t been much to cheer about lately if you're a home owner. Not when there are many people who are having to save every penny to be able to pay their county tax commissioner on time.

Unfortunately, H.R. 900 may not be worth cheering about either, though it certainly deserves plenty of scrutiny from all angles and should get plenty of study as Richardson begins unveiling more specifics.

In the meantime, politicians of every stripe possible have come out against the proposal for two main reasons – studies have shown removing property taxes from Georgia’s coffers would result in a multi-billion dollar local shortfall and local officials would lose control of their own purse strings and thus their power.

The latter is a legitimate concern, since no one wants Atlanta politicians deciding how much money local goverments will have on which to operate. And the potential loss of local revenue is worrisome, though it also shows just how much property owners are relied on to finance the bulk of county and city government, schools and services.

We’re not certain Richardson’s plan – he only revealed specifics to Atlanta media on Monday – is the right answer for Georgia, especially since Richardson himself told the Association of County Commissoners of Georgia that it is a tax shift, not tax relief.

That's not what is the doctor ordered. Home owners, particularly those who have seen their property taxes climb sharply in recent years due to growth, need some sort of relief sooner rather than later. Should you doubt that, go talk to those who saw their taxes double after the most recent revaluation in either Bryan or Effingham.

That’s why we continue to keep an open mind as we await more information on HR900. For one thing, it’s a safe bet few would be talking about the property tax system had it not been for Richardson’s proposal.

In short, HR900 has put property taxes on the front burner.

Hopefully, groups such as the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, which is against HR900 but in favor of modernizing the state’s tax system to include a circuit breaker to keep property taxes in check, will keep the pot boiling.

Bryan County News

Nov. 5, 2007

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