Politics & Government

House passes bill that would fund tax breaks for Ga. homeowners this year

ATLANTA – A measure reaffirming the House of Representatives' desire to fund tax breaks given to homeowners last year, but make future funding less likely, passed the House this morning.

The vote was 117 to 55.

The House then quickly adjourned without taking up another piece of important property tax legislation: House Resolution 1. That resolution would cap property value increases, which are set by the tax assessor's office and used in conjunction with millage rates to figure tax bills.

Republicans called the legislation that did pass, House Bill 143, a way to strengthen the state's resolve to fund the homeowners tax relief grant this year. It's also a way to make sure the state doesn't promise tax breaks it can't afford in the future.

Democrats called the measure a political trick, smoke and mirrors that really doesn't guarantee tax break funding this year and will lead to a tax increase for homeowners this fall and in future years.

Basically, the bill says the state "shall" fund tax breaks that were included on property tax bills this past fall. But that money was already included in the budget last year – Gov. Sonny Perdue simply withheld the money as the economy worsened and state revenues tanked, leaving a $2.2 billion hole in the budget.

House Bill 143, sponsored by Warner Robins state Rep. Larry O'Neal, wouldn't force the governor to put the money back into the budget. But it sends a strong message that, if he doesn't, he's going against the will of the legislature and faces the possibility of an veto override.

That deals with tax breaks listed on 2008 tax bills, which have already gone out and, in many cases, been paid by taxpayers. It's unlikely – nearly impossible, according to O'Neal – that state grant money that helps fund those homestead exemption breaks will be available when this year's bills go out.

That means a tax increase for homeowners, unless local cities, counties and school boards can cut spending significantly. In future years the state would only fund the tax break grants, first put into law in 1999, if the state has enough surplus revenue to fund them.

Read the bill: http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2009_10/sum/hb143.htm