Producing Postitive Results

March 13, 2010

The People’s Business

By President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams
March 15, 2010

Despite what you hear about tight budgets, declining revenues, and the difficult economic climate, the Georgia Senate has found ways to move Georgia forward and produce positive results for our citizens. Just like you and your families, the legislature must find ways to operate and do more with less. We are doing everything in our power to lighten the burdens on taxpayers, provide a more transparent government, and find cost efficiencies within our own budgets.

Property taxes are the most frustrating of all taxes for most Georgia tax payers. If you are not buying anything you don’t pay property owners. If you are not making any money, you don’t pay income taxes, but property taxes are demanded of you regardless of your financial situation or behavior. This has forced many property owners into foreclosures.

Georgians scored a victory this week in the State Senate with the unanimous passage of the Property Tax Assessment and Appeals Reform Bill (SB 346). This legislation ensures that all Georgia properties are properly assessed at Fair Market Value and that property owners have guaranteed rights to appeal. No property owner should pay more in taxes than what their home is worth. Recent real-estate sales data show widespread disparities between actual sales prices and current assessed values. A study of five metro-Atlanta counties shows an estimated overpayment of property taxes in excess of $200 million during 2009. Property owners should expect a fair, balanced and transparent tax system. Providing regular assessments and greater ability to appeal those assessments is a ground-breaking step in the right direction. The overall reform includes more than 50 changes to current state law that will help lift burdens from property owners. Significant taxpayer friendly provisions include:

• Requirement that every property owner receive annual Notice of Assessment, which guarantees right to appeal
• Every Notice of Assessment must contain estimated property tax
• Expansion of appeal time-period from 30 to 45 days
• Alternative streamlined appeal option for commercial property valued in excess of $1,000,000
• Automatic taxpayer victory on appeals when government fails to respond within 45 days
• Requirement that only “current use of property” be used in determining Fair Market Value
• Taxpayer must be given access to all data used in determining Fair Market Value
• Sales price establishes Fair Market Value for next tax year

The economy necessitates that we create a culture of efficiency and cost savings within state government. The Senate also moved forward this week with the Transparency in Government Act and the Paper Reduction Act. The Transparency in Government Act requires the General Assembly to be included in the auditing and tracking functions of open.georgia.gov. This bill ensures all fiscal actions of the entire legislative arm of state government are available for the general public, increasing accountability and transparency to the people of Georgia. The Paper Reduction Act is a prescription to save time and money, and increase efficiency. It will increase electronic distribution and publication in state government, providing you with easier, more instantaneous access to government information. It will also save taxpayer dollars by cutting costs of printing, paper, and mailing.

Without question, our number one challenge this session continues to be the budget. The state revenues have continued to fall under what has been projected and the governor lowered the FY 2010 revenue figure by $342 million this week. We are having to make difficult decisions but are finding ways to make the government do more with less. Many of the senators on the appropriations committee have worked tirelessly to find any and every possible way to save money while protecting vital services need by our state. There are still difficult decisions that are before us though. I appreciate everyone who has called my office or emailed about your concerns on the budget. A lot of people have asked me about the 4H program and the Extension offices. The University System has recommended eliminating these programs. This was not a recommendation from the Senate or the legislature, and we will do all that we can to make sure we keep these important services up and running.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator. As I work for you this session, please continue to contact me with your thoughts, questions and concerns.

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Sen. Tommie Williams serves as President Pro Tempore. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Toombs, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached at 404.656.0089 or by email at tommie.williams@Senate.ga.gov.