As the 2010 Legislative Session begins to wind down, the Senate and House have worked with unprecedented coordination on key issues for all of Georgia. While this has been one of our most challenging years in state history, the Senate has delivered on its promise to focus on our top priorities and pass a fiscally responsible balanced budget, a plan for transportation funding, a property tax assessment and appeals reform package, and an ethics bill.
This week, we fulfilled our Constitutional duty and passed a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2011. The Senate budget cut $2.6 billion in state spending, with most state agencies were reduced by more than 20%. The Senate accomplished this without raising taxes and worked diligent to maintain essential services, like 4-H programs, education and Medicaid. When you consider that 80 percent of the budget that could be reduced is comprised of K-12 education, higher education, corrections and healthcare, our choices were not easy. The FY11 Senate budget is based on State General Fund and Motor Fuel Revenues equal to $16.5 billion. The FY11 revenue estimate reflects an 18% decline from the original FY09 General budget of $20.1 billion or a $3.7 billion shortfall. The median cut to agencies in the Senate version of the budget is 19% from FY09 and 8% from the FY10 General Budget. We balanced the budget in a way that will help families and future economic growth in our state.
The House and Senate also came together and passed real transportation funding solutions for Georgians, which promotes economic growth and makes Georgia more attractive to potential businesses and residents. Investing in our infrastructure and freight corridors will help us move Georgia products, as well as goods and services, through our state. By opening freight corridors, the supply and demand channels will move quickly and produce a more stable economy. Products and service will reach across the state and even into neighboring states. This is a big first step toward reducing the congestion and gridlock that prevents Georgians from easily getting to their jobs and families.
Georgia’s property owners triumphed in the General Assembly this week with the overwhelming bi-partisan support in the House of Senate Bill 346. Championed by Senate Majority Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), the Property Tax Assessment and Appeals reform bill is aimed at ensuring all Georgia properties are properly assessed at Fair Market Value and that property owners have guaranteed rights to appeal. This is the most sweeping overhaul of the Georgia property tax system in decades. Property owners deserve fair and transparent assessment and appeals process. While this does not solve all the issues with Georgia’s property tax system, it begins to level the playing field between the property owner and the government. The Property Tax Assessment and Appeals reform bill was a result of a 2009 study committee on property taxes. Testimony from many Georgians including tax assessors, property lawyers and realtors was heard throughout the process. This is truly the people’s bill and I commend Senator Rogers for his extraordinary work with all stakeholders and legislators from both sides of the isle.
The General Assembly passed the Senate’s ethics reform bill, which will change some of the ways we do business at the Capitol. This was a much-needed bill that will bring significant change to the political system in Georgia. Some provisions in the bill include broader authority of the state Ethics Commission, tighter reporting requirements for lobbyists and legislators, increase fees and fines for lobbyists and legislators who break the law, stronger prohibitions sexual harassment, and require many local elected officials to file campaign disclosure reports with the Ethics Commission.
Balancing the budget in tough economic times while still providing essential services, passing transportation funding legislation and bringing about property tax reform are all victories for the people of Georgia. I am honored to serve and represent the 53rd Senate District in the State Senate and as the Senate Transportation Chairman. I am working diligently to move Georgia forward for the citizens of this great state with an improved plan of economic development and transportation. As I work for you this session, please continue to contact me with your thoughts, questions and concerns.
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Sen. Jeff Mullis serves as Chairman of the Transportation Committee. He represents the 53rd Senate district which includes Chattooga, Dade, and Walker counties and portions of Catoosa County. He can be reached at his office in Atlanta at 404.656.0057 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.