2012 session to see return of tax code restructuring debate

Having failed to agree on legislation that would have dramatically changed Georgia’s tax code last year, the Republican majority leadership is expected to try again when the 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly convenes on Monday, Jan. 9.

Proposed changes include large tax breaks for corporations and tax increases on Georgia families in the form of reinstating the 4 percent state sales tax on food. Taxes will be a hotly debated issue again this year. Other issues expected to be at the top of the agenda include:

Transportation:¬†As the result of legislation that was passed in 2010, Georgia voters are scheduled to go to the polls during this year’s July 31 primary and decide whether to approve a one-cent sales tax, proceeds from which would be used to fund transportation improvements on a regional basis in the counties of each region where the tax referendum is approved. A proposal has been made to change the election date for the regional sales tax (T-SPLOST) vote from July to the November general election, when voter turnout is historically higher. The proposal failed to reach a vote during the General Assembly’s special session last August but is expected to be brought up again during the 2012 session. If approved, the tax would bring in $6.1 billion to the metro Atlanta region over the next 10 years.

Criminal Justice: A special council has recommended an increased use of probation and flexibility in sentencing for non-violent offenders to reduce the financial and human costs of Georgia’s overcrowded prisons. It is estimated that Georgia currently spends more than $1 billion a year and has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation. Among the proposals recommended by the council include allowing judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in certain circumstances, expanding the use of Drug, DUI and Mental Health Courts and changing many traffic offenses from misdemeanors to violations. Gov. Nathan Deal is supportive of the proposals, and legislative leaders have said criminal justice reform will be a priority issue during the upcoming session.

Requirements for Assistance: Legislation has been introduced to require drug testing for those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. A separate proposal would require those receiving unemployment benefits to complete 24 hours of community service each week.

Other Issues: Lawmakers will consider recommendations on revising the state funding formula for local public school systems, which has been cut by billions of dollars over the past nine years. Separate bills have also been proposed that would authorize counties to hold non-partisan elections for local offices (sheriff, tax commissioner, clerk of court, coroner, county commissioner, school board, etc.); allow persons to carry concealed firearms in public without having to obtain a gun permit; and remove the statute of limitations on prosecuting persons for child molestation or rape.

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Georgia Democrats disappointed in round one of redistricting decision

Leaders optimistic maps will be struck down by courts

Atlanta, Ga. – December 23, 2011 – Georgia’s Democrats expressed disappointment today in round one of the redistricting fight with Department of Justice’s (DOJ) ruling that granted pre-clearance for the state redistricting maps. However, they expressed optimism for the continued judicial process the maps will undergo.

In previous years, the DOJ has pre-cleared Georgia’s maps only to have the courts intervene following additional litigation and demand new maps be drawn under their supervision.

With pre-clearance, the maps will immediately take effect because the Governor has already signed them into law.

The 2012 elections will be run using these pre-cleared maps unless the courts intervene. It becomes a matter of litigation to enjoin them from being utilized.

“Republicans are attempting to use the Voting Rights Act to resegregate Georgia. The Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination of any kind. The GOP-approved maps appear to be systematic in their targeting of White Democrats and harmful in their outcome,” said Sen. Horacena Tate, chair of the Senate Democratic Reapportionment Committee.

Reducing the minority population in numerous districts violates the intent of the Voting Rights Act and potentially reduces the ability of African Americans and Latinos and all other voters to build coalitions and elect the candidates of their choice.

“We could have taken a different path during the special reapportionment session. Instead, Republican partisanship prevailed and now we will be forced to revisit this matter in litigation and the courts, taking time away from the real issues that matter to Georgians,” said Rep. Billy Mitchell, assistant whip for the House Democrats.

Democrats support maps that are fair and do not polarize communities that have been successfully integrated through the Voting Rights Act.

“The proposed maps unfairly isolate minority voters from their coalition partners, violating the spirit of the Voting Rights Act. These maps attempt to erode the multi-racial coalitions that Georgia has been so successful in building. And it is clear that the purpose of these maps is to discriminate against certain voters because of their political views. That is unconstitutional,” said Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur).

The effect of creating a Republican super-majority would be devastating to Georgia citizens and will potentially silence the voices of many for the next decade. Democrats said the focus of Georgia should be rebuilding the economy and creating real jobs.

“Creating a prosperous and strong Georgia that focuses on families and small businesses is essential to rebuilding our state’s economy. Silencing such a significant portion of our population through gerrymandering is harmful to building communities that work,” said Sen. Steve Henson, leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “Our priority of rebuilding the state’s economy requires the best ideas Democrats, Republicans, conservatives and liberals have to offer. Anything less, starves our state from recovery.”

“Georgians want transparent and honest government. When people are struggling to pay their bills and are trying to find jobs that pay well, redistricting may seem like a useless government function. But when citizens understand that their voice in government is at stake, it changes the dialogue. In the current environment, Democrats are the watchdog for the regular person,” said Rep. Stacey Abrams, leader of the House Democratic Caucus. “In an era of tax hikes on working families by Republicans who promised fiscal responsibility, who voters elect matters.”

The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, GALEO, and other like-minded organizations and individuals have demonstrated that they are willing to be involved in the litigation of these maps.

Georgia unemployment falls below 10 percent

Georgia’s unemployment rate decreased from 10.2 percent in October to 9.9 percent in November, marking its first venture below the 10 percent mark in four months.

State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said, “We had the best November since 2007 for retail hiring, while seeing gains in the financial and business sectors. These two sectors had been hit very hard by the recession. This is encouraging news.”

However, November was the 52nd consecutive month Georgia has exceeded the national unemployment rate, which now stands at 8.6 percent.

“State and local governments have cut 22,500 jobs over the last year, while the private sector has gained 2,600 jobs. I think it’s evidence that our state and local leadership is being sensitive to the taxpayer and trying to make government live within its means.”

State revenue collections up 7% in November

Georgia tax collections increased in November by $88.3 million or 7 percent over the same month last year. The total increase for the first five months of fiscal year 2012 is 6.8 percent.

Sales tax revenues for November increased 14.8 percent, while individual income tax collections rose by 2.6 percent, motor fuel tax revenues by 6.7 percent and corporate income taxes by 65 percent.

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