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John Douglas - More bad budget news hits Georgia

The 2009 legislative session completed day 15 on Feb. 6 with bills passing through the chamber last week which will provide for tax relief and child safety. I support these pieces of legislation and look forward to their implementation. Unfortunately, even with the good work in those areas, very bad budget news has dominated the week at your Capitol.

State revenue in January was $262 million less than January 2008. That was the biggest month-to-month drop in Georgia history. This reduction dropped the year-to-date revenue collections to a minus 4.8 percent. The current revenue estimate for FY09, which is used for preparing budgets, is based on a 4.4 percent decrease, so the deficit swells even more. This is a serious deterioration that is certainly validated by the doubling of unemployment claims and an 8% unemployment rate.

January also saw individual income taxes down 13.3 percent. Overall sales taxes were down 8.4 percent. Fuel taxes continued to decline with excise taxes falling by 1.7 percent and fuel sales taxes decreasing by 3.1 percent. Corporate taxes declined by $30M.

Year-to-date individual income taxes are showing a 5 percent decrease. Sales taxes are down for the year by 4.2 percent. Fuel taxes in both categories are negative, excise taxes by 7.6 percent and sales taxes by 3.7 percent, for a total of $32M.

While the federal stimulus bill may offer some relief, there are sober decisions to be made concerning the 2009 Amended and the 2010 Budgets as well as revenue outlook. Closing of state facilities is almost inevitable now; the only decisions to be made are what to close and for how long. We remain convinced that raising taxes and taking even more of your money is not the answer, so the only alternative is to shut down portions of the government that will have the least impact on your lives. However, there will be some degree of impact on us all before this is over.

The money crisis has now forced us to change our legislative schedule from five day weeks to three-day weeks through March 25 and then recess to June 22 to finish the final five days of the session before the end of the fiscal year. This schedule will allow us to learn if the federal government is going to send money our way and to get a final fix on the revenue that comes to the state in FY09. Should we not need the final five days in June, we will write them off and save the state $300,000 by not being in Atlanta those days.

To lessen your tax burden, the Senate also passed SB 83 which doubles the homestead exemption from $2,000 to $4,000. Statistics show that when taking inflation into account since the exemption's establishment over 70 years ago, a $2,000 exemption in the 1930s would equate to approximately a $32,000 exemption in today's economy. The Homestead Exemption adjustment proposed will protect homeowners from possible Home Tax Relief Grant (HTRG) cuts in the future. Additionally exemption funds would not be subject to appropriated funding decisions each year. The funds would be guaranteed to those it impacts most - the taxpayers.

In 2008, I strongly objected to the candidacy of Horace Don Gresham to the Newton County Board of Education. In 1988, Gresham was convicted of sodomy in DeKalb County involving a boy under the age of 14. In 1999, he was charged with public indecency in Newton County. In the most recent case, Gresham admitted his guilt and voluntarily completed a pretrial diversion program in lieu of prosecution.

I presented Senate Bill 14 last week, which prohibits any person who is on the National Sex Offender Registry or the state sexual offender registry from being elected or serving on a local board of education. I vowed to present this bill and am pleased to have it in the system. Last week the Education and Youth Committee unanimously passed SB 14 and it will be voted on in the full Senate when we return Feb. 10.

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.

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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 a john.douglas@senate.ga.gov.