The tax relief that is no more

During the 2009 legislative session, the General Assembly worked hard to balance the budget by cutting inefficient programs and wasted taxpayer dollars. It’s true that we passed a number of important measures to protect homeowners. There is one exception, however: the decision not to fund the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant (HTRG).

HTRG was designed as a grant to local governments to give property tax relief for homeowners. For instance, if your property tax bill was $2,000, the state paid between $200 and $300 of the bill for you. So, you paid about $1,700 of the bill and the state paid the rest.

Since its inception, there have been ample state revenues to fund this tax relief. Homeowners have received a tax break each year – until now.

This past session the General Assembly passed legislation that changed the rules for funding the grant. Beginning this year, the state will not fund property tax relief for homeowners through HTRG unless the state has “surplus” revenues.

This means that unless your local government decides to reduce their tax bill, you will now have to pay the whole tax bill, or the whole $2,000.

In my opinion, this was the wrong time to do this. Yes, the state is struggling with lower revenues and we are facing a challenge in finding more cuts. But our citizens are also struggling daily with their own financial challenges. This was not the right cut.

I did not feel this was a time to ask property owners to pay more in property taxes. I spoke against this bill from the floor and I voted against changing the rules that would cause homeowners to have to pay more in taxes. I felt the taxpayer needed the money more than the state.

Now, the General Assembly did pass several important laws to protect property owners this year. We capped property tax assessments at zero percent for two years (HB 233). This means no local government can raise your taxes through the back door by simply increasing your property value.

We enforced true assessed property values by requiring all distressed properties be considered when determining local values (SB 55).

In order for property owners to have a fair chance at appeal, we instituted the New Expedited and Cost Effective Process of Appeals of Assessment (SB 240) that places the burden of proof on the government, not the property owner.

Finally, property owners also must now receive a Notice of Right to File Return with Every Tax Bill (HB 304).

Since I was first elected I have worked for smaller government and lower taxes. This past session was no different. I worked to find appropriate cuts to government spending so that we could continue to fund tax relief for homeowners that desperately need it in this economy. I will continue to fight for tax relief and smaller government on your behalf.

[Sen. Mitch Seabaugh serves as Senate majority whip. He represents the 28th Senate District, which includes Coweta and Heard counties and portions of Carroll and Troup counties. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-6446 or by email at]

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