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Doug Holt: Legislative session off to smooth start

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

The 2013 legislative session started smoothly on Jan. 14, with the House re-electing Speaker David Ralston and Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones. Our 47 freshmen members (out of 180, a fairly large class) started introducing bills with the usual excitement -- the excitement that comes from the first opportunity to act on ideas they could never do anything but talk about before. There will be some interesting committee hearings in weeks ahead!

The House and Senate also met in joint session on Jan. 17 and welcomed Gov. Nathan Deal for his annual State of the State Address. In his remarks, Deal addressed four primary themes. The first was public safety, where he will follow up his criminal justice reform of last year with a juvenile justice package.

The governor's second topic was education, where his focus was primarily financial. In his budget proposals, he will continue to shield K-12 education from additional recession-related cuts. He will also request additional funds for pre-K and HOPE. In addition, he will ask that we start moving higher education away from funding based on enrollment toward funding based on outcomes (think graduation rates and other success indicators).

In his third theme, health care, the governor was mainly focused on efforts to contain the costs that will be associated with constant high rates of growth in existing programs, as well as those driven by the implementation of the federal health care act.

Finally, in the area of economic development, he pledged to continue his focus on making Georgia the number one state for doing business. This includes ongoing efforts to run the state in an efficient, businesslike manner, which have already brought recognition in the fact that we recently were again awarded the top AAA bond rating by all three bond rating agencies (one of only seven or eight states to do so), as well as by measures like being listed in the top five states for business climate by Site Selection Magazine for the last two years.

Now I'd like to update you on a topic from last year. You may recall we passed a phased-in elimination of what is unpopularly known as the "birthday tax," the annual ad valorem tax on vehicles. Starting March 1, all vehicles purchased (new and used, commercial and private sales) will see an upfront title fee of 6.5 percent, but no sales tax or ongoing ad valorem tax. The phase-in applies to vehicles purchased in state from Jan. 1 of 2012 through the end of February this year. Vehicles purchased during the phase-in can stay under the old system or "opt in" to the new arrangement. I've received a number of inquiries from people wanting to opt in, but could not answer previously, because the state Department of Revenue was still in the process of creating rules, as well as coordinating with local tax officials. Now that work is largely done, and I can offer some guidance.

First, look at the numbers comparing how you would fare under the new system versus the old. DOR has a website with a calculator to help at http://onlinemvd.dor.ga.gov/Tap/welcome.aspx. The calculator will show you what it would cost to opt in, compared to what you would spend if you don't. If you want to opt in, you will need to find your bill of sale, as well as evidence of any sales tax and ad valorem tax you have paid on your vehicle. Then go to your county tax commissioner's office. There is no need to rush, as you can do this between March 1 and the end of the year (in fact, it might be best to wait a month or two so that the staff can get accustomed to the new process). The reason you want to bring evidence of sales and ad valorem taxes paid is that these amounts will be credited toward the new title fee. You may have already paid enough that opting in won't cost you a cent!

Appropriations hearings will occupied this week, so we won't be in session again until next week. Thus my next column will be in two weeks, and we will start looking at interesting new bills.

State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle represents the 112th District, which is comprised of parts of Morgan and Newton counties. Contact him at 404-656-0152 or Doug@DougHolt.org.