Permanent tax relief, or unpredictable grant funding? Which would you choose? - Sen. Chip Rogers

Property owners beware. County officials are sadly misleading taxpayers on the actions of the State Legislature and their property taxes. Recent editorials around the state, and comments from local officials, would have you believe the State Legislature is to blame for any potential property tax increase.

They suggest this is due to there being no Homeowners Tax Relief Grant (HTRG) in the Fiscal Year 2010 state budget. Transparency and honesty are especially important in government, so let's set the record straight.

A property owner's tax bill is determined by the local government through its setting of the millage rate and the individual assessed property value, not by a grant that may or may not be available from year to year. HTRG is a GRANT the state extends to local governments, based upon revenue dollars.

The purpose is to provide property-tax relief for Georgia Homeowners -- when there is a state revenue surplus. We, in the Georgia Legislature, fulfilled our promise to the counties by fully funding $428 Million for HTRG, which was included in the original 2009 Budget.

HTRG is NOT the same as the voter-approved state or local "Homestead Exemption." The Homestead Exemptions enjoyed by homeowners across the state of Georgia are not being reduced. In fact, the GOP leadership in the Georgia State Legislature attempted to help property owners this session by passing legislation that allows voters to double their statewide Homestead Exemption (SB 83).

Local Governments (county and city) lobbied against even allowing this proposed legislation to go to the ballot. That's right, they didn't even want to let you vote on it. A majority of Democrats in the State Legislature also voted FIVE times against the measure, keeping it short of the required two-thirds majority vote. The state Homestead Exemption originated in the 1930's at $2,000, and 70 years later, still remains at $2,000.

Voting for this long-overdue homestead exemption increase would have made tax relief permanent instead of based upon an unreliable year-by-year grant.

The Legislature passed a number of important measures to protect property owners this session. We capped property tax assessments at 0 percent for two years (HB 233). This means no local government can raise your taxes through the back-door tax increase of "increased assessment" for the next two years.

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).

These are the worst state revenues we've seen in 50 years. This session, the Republicans in the State Legislature did everything possible to protect citizens and property owners from feeling the strain, by making necessary cuts to overgrown and inefficient government programs.

By the counties relying on an unpredictable grant to balance their budget, they put citizens at risk.

They had a choice to support permanent tax relief, but chose not to. We chose to protect property owners and taxpayers from unreliable funds. County officials chose to rely on their citizens for increased revenues through millage rate increases, rather than support permanent tax relief and make necessary cuts at the local level to balance their budgets.

Sen. Chip Rogers serves as Senate Majority Leader. He represents the 21st Senate District, which includes portions of Cherokee and Cobb counties. He can be reached at his office at (404) 463-1378, or by e-mail at chip.rogers@senate.ga.gov.