Rep. Ramsey reports on Week 2 of legislature

On Monday, Jan. 26, the Georgia House of Representatives convened for the sixth legislative day after adjourning for the previous week.

The prior week was reserved for joint Senate and House budget hearings, as the Appropriations Committee members prepare the first committee draft of the 2009 and 2010 budgets.

As I have previously mentioned, the state faces a more than $2 billion revenue shortfall caused by the struggling economy that must be balanced by the end of the fiscal year. We should see an initial draft of the House Committee’s budget in the coming days.

This past week the pace of bills being introduced and considered in committee and on the floor began to really pick up.

The most important legislation considered on the floor of the House this past week was HB 143, legislation addressing the funding of the Home Owners Tax Relief Grant (HTRG).

To clear up one misconception about this program, it is not the same as the homestead exemption that we all get on our property taxes.

The governor’s proposal to eliminate the HTRG has nothing to do with homestead exemption, which would not be impacted. In fact, some senators have proposed legislation to increase the homestead exemption.

The HTRG is a grant program that was part of former Gov. Roy Barnes’ agenda and was put in place by the legislature in 1999.

The stated purpose of the grant program at the time was to serve as a mechanism to provide surplus state revenues back to local governments, which could then use the funds to keep costs down and property taxes lower.

However, in the years the program has been in place, the amount of the grants to local governments has not tracked the rise and fall of state revenues, as intended.

The legislation passed out of the House on Friday by a large bipartisan margin and was immediately transmitted to the Senate.

If the measure is passed by the Senate and signed into law by the governor, it will fully fund the HTRG for this budget year.

This will likely insure that local governments do not have to send out an additional tax bill to property owners in these difficult economic times.

Further, the legislation puts in place a formula for future grants that will insure the program works as intended and is predictable and transparent in future budget years.

I am also pleased to announce that Gov. Perdue appointed me as one of his administration’s floor leaders this past week. It is truly an honor, and I look forward to working with Gov. Perdue on behalf of his agenda in the weeks and months ahead. I am certain my service in this role will be of benefit to our community.

In last week’s column, I announced that I had been named to serve again on the Judiciary, Non-Civil Committee again. This past week, Chairman Rich Golick named me the chairman of the subcommittee dealing with crimes against children and substance abuse.

I am extremely excited about this appointment, as it gives me an opportunity to work on legislation to protect the children of Georgia, an issue of paramount importance to me.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. I look forward to hearing from constituents often as the session moves forward.

[Matt Ramsey, an attorney in Peachtree City, represents District 72 in the Georgia House of Representatives.]

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