Local school systems would continue to get an extra month to decide whether to bring specific teachers back for the next school year under legislation that passed the Georgia House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The temporary change — passed last year to help systems deal with budget crises — would be extended through the 2012-2013 school year.
The change gave systems more time to determine how many teachers they would need in the coming year, allowing them to tender contracts to returning teachers through May 15, instead of April 15. This was supposed to be a one-year change, but on Tuesday the House voted to extend it for another three years.
The enacting legislation, House Bill 906, still must pass the Georgia Senate and be signed by the governor before it can take effect. The bill passed the House 136-33.
‘Dysfunctional’ law endangers hotel-motel tax increase
It was supposed to be smooth sailing this year for the push to add another penny to Macon and Bibb County’s hotel-motel tax.
Last year’s political acrimony was gone, and this year, legislators all seemed to be on the same page. Then state lawyers got down to the gritty details, and now there are all kinds of complications in the process of increasing the tax and splitting proceeds among the Georgia sports and music halls of fame and the Douglass Theatre.
State sales tax laws are complicated, and hotel-motel tax rules are perhaps more so because of strict breakdowns in the law about how the money can be spent. The bottom line in this case is that local legislators plan to move forward, but it’s very likely that the enacting legislation will have to be discussed and voted on by the full Georgia House and Senate, instead of just needing approval from local legislators.
Once that starts, just about anything can happen to a bill, and legislators will have to negotiate complicated portions of tax law throughout the process.
“Nothing is easy up here,” said state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon.
“The law is convoluted,” state Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, told members of the House’s Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.
State Rep. Larry O’Neal, a Warner Robins Republican and the committee’s chairman, agreed. He assigned the hotel-motel tax bill, which Lucas is sponsoring, to a subcommittee and indicated he’d help move the process forward.
“I know it’s important to Bibb County, I know it’s important to Macon,” O’Neal said. “I know it’s important to the state of Georgia. ... (The law is) almost totally dysfunctional. It’s very, very difficult to understand for even the best tax minds.”
Peake: Start school later
A push to start the school year after Labor Day has been renewed.
House Bill 995 would require public elementary and secondary schools to start their calendar on or after Sept. 1 or Labor Day each year, which ever came earlier. Schools that meet year round would be exempted.
There are several benefits to this, state Rep. Jeff May, R-Monroe, said. It would lower energy costs because August is one of the hottest months of the year, and schools wouldn’t have to run their air conditioning. There’s a tourism benefit since families could extend vacations, and resorts and amusement parks wouldn’t lose their high-school-age work forces until September.
Also, May said, it would “give our kids their summers back.”
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, has signed onto this bill, saying there are “real savings” to be had. But the bill may not get very far. House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, noted that a similar effort failed a few years ago. The consensus was that school calendars should be set by local school boards, not the state, he said.
Still, the bill will get a hearing in Coleman’s committee, and that’s one of the first steps toward becoming a law.
Tax benefit proposed for doctors
Doctors would get tax credits for working with free clinics or treating indigent patients in emergency rooms under legislation being discussed at the state Capitol.
House Bill 1038 would institute a tax credit of up to $1,000 in 2011, then increase that cap by $1,000 a year until it hits $4,000. The credit would help make up for low Medicaid reimbursement rates, which generally don’t cover all the costs of treating patients that don’t have insurance, said state Rep. John Lunsford, the bill’s sponsor.
Lunsford, R-McDonough, said he didn’t know of another state with the credit and that it might attract doctors to Georgia.“Is it enough (of a payment to doctors)? It’s not even close,” Lunsford said. “But can we afford enough? No sir.”
Bill would require more homestead exemption notice
Local tax offices would have to be more proactive about telling homeowners they can qualify for a tax exemption under legislation being discussed at the state Capitol.
House Bill 967 would give tax commissioners 30 days to give new homeowners an application for the homestead exemption tax credit, which lowers the tax bill on a person’s primary home.
This tax exemption has existed for many years in Georgia, but new home buyers are often unaware of it, state Rep. Craig Gordon said Tuesday.In fact, count Gordon, D-Savannah, among them. He said he didn’t know about the exemption until he’d owned his home for a couple of years.
O’Neal tinkering with tax code
As he so often does, state Rep. Larry O’Neal is carrying several bills this year meant to clean up Georgia’s tax code.
O’Neal, R-Warner Robins, is chairman of the House of Representatives’ tax-code-writing Ways and Means Committee. Some of the more interesting bills — for tax code bills, at least — he has pending this year are:
- House Bill 962, which changes state law so the Georgia Department of Revenue can reissue tax refund checks to taxpayers who fail to cash the first check in 180 days. Currently, that money just goes back into the state treasury.
- House Bill 963, which would allow people to file their property taxes electronically instead of by mail or in person.
- House Bill 983, which targets “captive factoring entities,” businesses that use “disingenuous” accounting to shift revenue collected in Georgia to other states for tax purposes so they can avoid Georgia taxes, O’Neal said. A similar code change last year allowed the Georgia Department of Revenue to collect $78 million more in tax revenue from three businesses, O’Neal said, much more than he and others expected.
- House Bill 984, which would strip out a little known of state law that allows local governments to levy their own income taxes. O’Neal said the code section was discovered as he and another attorney in his House office were looking for something else in the code. He said he didn’t think it’s ever been used and that allowing local governments to institute and income tax is just bad policy.
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.