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League forum to feature tax reform plan

CONYERS - The Newton-Rockdale League of Women Voters chapter will host a panel discussion this week on current legislation being considered that would eliminate the local school portion of property taxes.

The forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Newton County Library meeting room, 7116 Floyd St., Covington.

Peter Armstrong of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute will be the featured speaker.

A panel of local speakers will also be included in the forum's discussion. Those invited to participate are Rockdale County Board of Education Chairman Jeff Dugan, Newton County Public Schools Superintendent Steven Whatley and Conyers Mayor Randy Mills.

Discussion will revolve around the tax reform package introduced by House Speaker Glenn Richardson.

The tax plan would eliminate automobile ad valorem taxes and education property taxes. In exchange, Richardson's plan would charge sales taxes on a broader list of goods and services.

Will Phillips, grassroots director for the American Association of Retired Persons, is slated to provide closing comments.

Diane Shockey and Cindy Roesel, LWV programs co-chairwomen, said they hope the forum can provide some different opinions from a local level on the current debate over tax reform.

One concern of the proposed tax plan is the stability of revenue if the tax system switches from one based on property assessment to one with an expanded state sales tax, Shockey said.

"Right now, an economic slowdown is causing all Georgia governmental entities to take a hard look at their revenue expectations," she said. "A sales tax can fluctuate with the economy. The league wants to make sure people are educated as to what the repercussions of a funding swap might entail."

Richardson's tax plan would be similar to a Homestead Option Sales Tax, which is used sparingly around the state. Only Rockdale and DeKalb counties utilize a HOST, which provides 100 percent homestead exemption on county maintenance and operations portions of tax bills for most residents in exchange for an additional 1 percent sales tax.

Under Richardson's plan, the portion of a person's property tax already credited by the state's homestead grant relief credit would increase from $8,000 to $18,000 and would be applied toward school taxes.

The state would finance the increased credit with an expansion of state sales taxes. Many services not taxed now would be if the tax plan is approved. Some of those services would include barbers, plumbers, attorneys, auto mechanics and others.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If you go

· What: The Newton-Rockdale League of Women Voters chapter hosts panel discussion on current legislation being considered that would eliminate the local school portion of property taxes

· When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

· Where: Newton County Library meeting room, 7116 Floyd St., Covington