BY REP. TERRY ENGLAND
As Spring Break and Easter draw near, tax cuts continue to be a topic of discussion in the Capitol halls. This week, the House and the Senate finally reached an agreement on the Fiscal Year 2008 Amended Budget and we also completed our work on the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget. I am happy to report that we were able to restore equalization grants to the majority of the austerity cuts to education.
BY REP. TERRY ENGLAND
Our work on the state budgets this year has been difficult due to a decreased revenue estimate. We found ourselves in a position of having to make some difficult cuts while still funding our state’s priorities, especially in education. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I can tell you that we worked tirelessly on these two budgets and I am proud to report to you that we have succeeded in funding our priorities.
In the FY08 Amended Budget, the original House proposal included $30 million in equalization grants for Georgia’s school systems. Our final agreement did include $20 million for those grants and we have funded the additional $10 million in the FY09 budget.
This midyear budget also included $210 million in bonds for school construction projects around the state. This budget was adopted by both the House and the Senate today and was immediately transmitted to the Governor. Governor Perdue has six days to sign or veto this budget.
We also funded over $50 million trauma care to help hospitals like Grady in Atlanta that treat the critically injured, $2.7 million to the public defender program to ensure all Georgians receive fair legal representation regardless of their ability to pay, and $40 million for reservoir projects to meet Georgia’s future water needs.
Earlier this session, I laid out for the priorities of the House as we moved through the budget process. We have remained committed to funding education, healthcare, public safety and natural resources despite a $245 million cut in estimated revenue. Our top priority was to restore the $141 million in austerity cuts to education and after many weeks with long nights, we did restore $90 million of those cuts.
We are counting on the Senate to continue this work and restore the remaining $50 million in austerity cuts. We also funded a 2.5 percent pay raise for our teachers and state employees, a pay raise for our public safety officers including those under the Department of Natural Resources, community health centers, and of course that final $10 million in equalization grants for our schools. This budget was immediately transmitted to the Senate for consideration.
Both of these budgets are fiscally conservative and meet the needs of our citizens. The Governor must act within six days on the FY08 Amended Budget, and I hope the Senate also moves quickly on the FY09 Budget and mirrors the House commitment to restoring austerity cuts.
You may recall that last week the House adopted House Resolution 1246 that would allow Georgians to vote to eliminate the ‘birthday tax’ on personal vehicles over a two year period, eliminate the state’s portion of the ad valorem taxes on personal vehicles and property, and cap assessments on personal property at two percent per year and commercial property at three percent per year. Tied to this was a measure that would have provided for a $10 fee on every vehicle registered in Georgia to fund a statewide trauma care network. This tax cut would have saved Georgians over $750 million making it the largest in our history. More importantly, this tax cut would have permanently and completely eliminated a tax on our citizens.
Unfortunately, our colleagues in the Senate have killed this measure. This week in a Senate committee, they stripped from the bill the provision that eliminates the birthday tax leaving Georgians to continue to bear this burden every year. The Senate has offered a different tax cut, but it is not permanent and it does not completely eliminate any tax burden on Georgians.
The Senate has announced their intention to introduce a measure to reduce the income tax Georgians pay but the Senate’s plan offers only a partial reduction and does not make that reduction permanent. While I do believe that we need to further explore this idea, the House has spent more than a year holding hearings and meeting with Georgians on this issue of tax cuts. And what we heard loud and clear was that Georgians no longer want to pay a tax on their birthday. I hope that over the next legislative recess we can hold hearings on reducing or eliminating the income tax, but for now we need the complete and permanent elimination of the birthday tax.
This past Thursday, it was my honor to host Superintendent Ron Saunders, his wife Kathy, Administrative Assistant Janice Easterling and Assistant Superintendent Jake Grant to the Capitol as we presented Ron with an Invite Resolution for him being named the State School Superintendent of the Year. I think we were able to surprise him with this honor as he had no idea about it until he saw Kathy and Janice there.
I pray that you and your family have a Blessed Easter.
Representative Terry England represents parts of Barrow County in the House of Representatives. During the Session he may be contacted at:
501 Coverdell Legislative Office Building
Atlanta, GA 30334