The Georgia General Assembly was not officially in session last week; however, work still took place on behalf of the people. With only three days remaining of the 2011 legislative session, several items still are on the agenda. The No. 1 priority is the passage of the upcoming budget for Fiscal Year 2012. In addition to the budget, numerous other highly publicized and debated issues have yet to pass this session, including tax-reform legislation, the local option for Sunday sales of packaged adult beverages and immigration legislation.
Last week, members of the Budget Conference Committee met to discuss the budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2012, which begins July 1. The committee includes three representatives and three senators all united with the same goal: a fiscally responsible budget that meets the necessary needs of the citizens and the state. The members meet to work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the $18.25 billion budget for FY 2012.
Tax reform in Georgia has been a topic discussed often; however, if a solution will be passed this session, the clock is ticking. The House is working together with the Senate to find solutions to revise the state tax code. The Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians was created last year (H.B. 1405) by the General Assembly and was composed of 11 members with the task of studying the state’s revenue structure and making recommendations to the legislature.
There were several different recommendations passed by the panel, but not all of the recommendations are going to be included in the tax-reform package. Currently, the legislature is looking at reducing the state income tax rate from 6 percent to 4.6 percent for 2012 and then reducing the rate after 2012 to 4.55 percent. Other parts of the tax-reform bill being looked at and discussed include a gradual reduction in the sales tax paid on energy for production over the next three years until the sales tax paid on the use of energy is eliminated. There will be new sales taxes on items such as telecom services, casual sales and automotive repair. We have heard and listened to the people and currently are looking at keeping itemized deductions up to a certain limit.
Changes in Georgia’s tax code can be in the form of one or more tax-reform bills. There also are several other items being looked at and discussed in regard to tax reform, and I will discuss those if, or when, legislation passes this session. If a tax-reform bill comes out of the special joint House-Senate committee, each chamber will vote either for or against the bill, without changes. With three legislative days remaining, tax reform here in Georgia still could be a possibility.
Another highly debated subject for years in Georgia has been whether or not packaged alcohol should be sold on Sundays. Senate Bill 10 already has passed the Senate and currently is in the House Rules Committee. This bill would not automatically permit the sale of packaged alcohol on Sundays; it would allow the decision to be made locally. Voters would decide if they approve of the Sunday sales of packaged liquor, beer and wine in their areas.
Immigration reform has been debated throughout our country and now within our state. Starting with Arizona, several other states also are approaching the illegal-immigration issue. Two bills – H.B. 87 and S.B. 40 – still are in play this session regarding immigration. The majority of the members of the legislature agree that immigration legislation is needed to combat those that are here illegally in our state; however, differences arise as to what the best approach is. The legislature is analyzing both of these bills and the intended and unintended results of the passage of this legislation.
The legislative session for this year is drawing to a close. Even though it has been a very difficult year with the major issues that are facing us in Georgia, it has been an honor serving you and the ideas, values and beliefs you represent.
The members of the General Assembly continued their work at the State Capitol on Monday for their 38th day of session.
Stephens, R-Savannah, serves the 164th District, which includes South Bryan, and can be reached at email@example.com.