John Douglas - Tax reform and education issues dominate week

The 2008 session of the Georgia Legislature is nearing the home stretch as our next meeting on Thursday will be Day 35 of the 40 legislative days allowed by law. The pace is increasing dramatically as senators and representatives work to finish the 2008 session.

The biggest tax cut in Georgia history was recently proposed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and members of the Senate. The Senate tax reform plan calls for a reduction in income taxes by 10 percent across the board for every state income tax taxpaying citizen. If passed, this plan will deliver more than $3.5 billion in tax cuts. The cuts will be phased in over five years in equal, annual installments, beginning July 1, 2008. Because the same percentage cut is applied to all rates, the taxpayers who need the cut the most will receive a proportionately larger tax cut. This measure puts money back in the pockets of Georgia taxpayers. I have long been a strong foe of both federal and state income taxes and hope this is the first step to eliminating the state income tax. Additionally, I hope it can become an example to the federal government that income taxes have to go.

The impending loss of the accreditation of the Clayton County schools continues to be a hot topic at the capitol. SB 458 provides that students can leave any school or system that loses its accreditation. If a student stays within the system but changes schools, transportation must be provided by the system. If a student chooses to leave the system, he must provide his own transportation. Of critical importance, no other system is required to accept those students if space is not available. To me, that was a key amendment, because of the crowding in the Newton, Rockdale, Henry and Spalding schools, all counties I represent and which are geographically close to Clayton County. I have no intention of allowing those systems to be flooded with former Clayton County students when we are hard pressed to educate those who already live in these counties. The taxpayers of those counties will not be asked to pay for the incompetence of the Clayton County school system.

In other news this week, Senate Bill (SB) 544, which I sponsored, saw final passage on Thursday and will become law with the governor's signature. SB 544 will begin to provide property tax relief for Newton County senior citizens. The legislation allows each resident of Newton County who is over the age of 65 and with an adjusted gross income of $25,000 or less to be granted a homestead exemption from all Newton County ad valorem taxes in the amount of $30,000. In order to be eligible for the benefit, a homeowner would have to file an application with the tax commissioner.

As always, please remember to contact me in my office on the issues that are affecting you and your area. I am here to represent you and it is an honor for me to work on your behalf.

State Sen. John Douglas serves as chairman of the Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee. He represents the 17th Senate District, which includes Newton County and portions of Henry, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton counties. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-0503 or by e-mail at john.douglas@senate.ga.gov.