Solons’ agenda: Revenue, taxes, transport

By Jason Pye

On Monday, Jan. 15, the 150th session of the Georgia General Assembly will be gaveled into session in Atlanta. From that time to Sine Die, as Mark Twain once said, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe.”

For the last several months, three issues have been given top priority: the budget shortfall, transportation and taxes.

Georgia is faced with a budget shortfall of nearly $2 billion. Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered spending cuts, as much as 8 percent, from all executive branch departments.

Appropriators are looking for nearly every way to cut spending, including putting themselves on a pork diet by eliminating Local Assistance Grants. Though not a significant portion of the budget, this shows legislators are serious about the economic crisis facing the state. Legislative leaders are even foregoing a 2.5 percent cost-of-living salary increase.

Legislators seem determined to pass a major transportation funding scheme to fund a perceived $100 billion transportation funding shortfall. If you recall, a regional transportation sales tax proposal failed earlier this year in the final minutes of the legislative session.

The “Get Georgia Moving” Coalition, which is comprised of business leaders, special interest groups and lobbyists, immediately began pushing Gov. Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and other leaders to pass some sort of referendum for either a statewide or regional transportation tax.

Less than a year ago, Gov. Perdue said, “I am not yet comfortable with our ability to effectively spend the funds we currently have for transportation improvements. I cannot yet guarantee that we are maximizing taxpayers’ contributions or getting the best return on investment.”

Not much has changed in a year, but it appears elected officials will move forward without enough time for real reform or prioritization inside the Georgia Department of Transportation, nor really taking into consideration any other methods of funding such as tolls, or conducting a cost-benefit analysis of proposed projects in the current short-term and long-term transportation plans.

There is a chance that this could be put off for another year, but legislative leaders promise that Georgians will have something to vote on in 2010.

Gov. Perdue also wants to borrow money to fund a “stimulus” package focusing on infrastructure, such as improving and building roads, bridges and schools.

This is very similar to plans being pieced together by President-elect Obama and Democrats in Congress. Though the effectiveness of this tactic is up for debate, the theory is that these government projects will put people back to work and help bring down unemployment, which now stands at 7 percent in Georgia.

On the tax front, legislators will likely move to constitutionally cap property tax assessments at 3 percent annually. This was a part of the GREAT Plan that legislative leaders from both chambers agreed on in principle, but were never able to get passed.

However, the budget crunch may be the end of the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant, a program enacted in 1998 by then Gov. Roy Barnes. Gov. Perdue delayed release of the funds last month and may ask the legislature to amend the budget to remove the grant entirely.

Several other issues will be given priority during the session, such as funding for trauma care and recommendations from Gov. Perdue’s Education Finance Task Force, however, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

No matter what happens during this legislative session, Georgians must get involved in the process by calling, emailing and faxing their elected representatives to voice their opinion on issues that matter to them. Start a blog or a mailing list to keep friends and your community up to date on important issues coming before the legislature.

Whatever you do, please just get involved.

[Jason Pye, a former chairman of the Libertarian Party of Georgia who frequently writes about state and national politics on his blog,, wrote this for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.]

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