Perdue talks tax cuts in annual state address

Gov. Sonny Perdue stressed fairly minor tax cuts in his State of the State messagetoday, including an elimination of the state portion of property taxes.

Perdue said that his proposal, which would require a constitutional amendment, wouldgive Georgians a $94 million tax break, and pressure local governments to restrainspending.

"As you know, many local governments have blamed the state for their reassessments-- ladies and gentlemen, this will take away that excuse," Perdue told a jointsession of the state Senate and House of Representatives.

While Perdue said that Georgians need better schools, roads, environment and healthcare -- items usually paid for with taxes -- he said the key to Georgia' statusas an "international capital" is low taxes.

Republicans praised Perdue’s speech, filled with Reaganesque rhetoric. Perdue referred to the city on the hill, and said immigrants are drawn to Georgia by “that sweet fragrance of optimism.”

“I thought it was one of the best he’s ever done,” said Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Warner Robins, a close Perdue ally. O’Neal praised the idea of funding counselors to involve parents in schools, and thought it should be expanded.

O’Neal said Perdue’s property-tax cut, which amounts only to one-quarter mill, was “a good start.” O’Neal’s Ways and Means committee is looking at much larger proposals, including eliminating the school portion of property tax in favor of an expanded sales tax.

Perdue also reiterated his call for eliminating state income tax for senior citizens,an idea that has been rejected by the Legislature in recent years. Democrats criticized that idea, and faulted the governor for what they said were half-measures on education.

“It’s a shell game,” said Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon. “The sound bites sound good, but when you start talking about where the rubber meets the road, things like middle income families trying to make ends meet, it doesn’t mean much. People are trying to put food on their tables, and he’s talking about giving retirees who make over $70,000 a year a tax break?”

For education, Perdue proposed adding $6.4 million in lottery funds to pre-kindergarten programs. And $65 million would go to school buses and technology in elementary and high schools.

Another $14 million would go to “Very Important Parent recruiters,” dedicated counselors for parents in schools with high truancy rates.

“We can teach and we can coach and we can motivate a student all day long, but if they don’t show up for the game, they’re not going to win,” Perdue said.

Perdue said that his proposed budget will include $120 million for water infrastructure and reservoirs, a response to last year’s near-record drought. He promised $11 million to fund a new statewide water-use plan, a three-year process expected to cost $30 million over its lifetime.

For roads, he proposed a $50 million loan fund that local governments could tap. High-tech industries would get a $40 million venture-capital fund. A health insurance plan for small businesses would get $17 million. And the state’s trauma network would get another $53 million.

Perdue mentioned only one new revenue source, increased fines on reckless drivers who greatly exceed the speed limit. The revenue would pay for 200 more state troopers.