Day 36: Ka-ching Day At the Capitol
by Angela Palm on 4/14/2010

This has been quite a week under the Gold Dome.  We've seen hissy fits, accusations, imaginative defensive and offensive moves, and hand-wringing angst wondering what we shall do to survive.  Luckily the week was only three days long or the Doctor of the Day might have needed to pass out valium -- or set up a time out room.  FYI, during the session there is a doctor recognized each day.  He or she works in an office on the second floor that day to tend to legislators and visitors who have need of medical services.  

The General Assembly might as well have read last night's report to get their game plan for today, although I'm sure they figured it out for themselves.  Today was all about the money.

  • The Senate passed HB 1055 which allegedly will raise about $96 million in revenue from new fees.  It was immediately transmitted to the House -- which was in recess so the Speaker could watch the Senate (as he announced from the podium).
  • The House received HB 1055 and promptly amended it.  They attached the House version of HB 307, the hospital bed tax/provider fee, a five-year phase out of the 0.25 mill state ad valorem tax, and a five year phase in of a "senior tax" eliminating the state income tax on unearned income for those 65 and older.  Over the five year period the state would give up $387 million in revenue.  Once fully implemented in 2016, it would be an annual loss of $244.5 million.
  • After a bit of procedural squabbling, the amended bill passed the House 107-63.  Democrats appeared to be correct that there should have been a fiscal note under state law.  The issue of germaneness ( whether the topics are related) came up again.  Technically, unrelated topics are not supposed to be in the same bill, but it happens all the time.
  • In the Senate, the amended bill was heralded as a wonderful solution to our problems.  Who knew?  Throw in tax cuts with fee increases and a new tax/fee, and it somehow becomes a massive tax cut that any conservative should get behind.  Never mind the fact that the fee increases sunset in five years just as the cuts permanently kick fully into gear or that the state already has a revenue problem.  
  • The Senate agreed with the House version 39-12.  It now goes to the Governor.  Both those tax cuts were his idea a few years ago. Good thing the General Assembly disagreed with him then or what would they have done now? 
  • With the hospital and fees revenue safely taken care of, the House took up the 2011 budget.  After a seemingly endless presentation and speeches, it passed 120-52.  Education was a major topic.  One side hammered on how much education has been cut; the other trumpeted the high percentage it is of the budget.  Ignored is the fact that mathematically it has to become a bigger part as the amount of the budget shrinks but the number of students and teachers does not.
  • Finally, the House agreed with the Senate version of HB 244 that is expected to provide at least $288 million from the GEFA loans.  It now goes to the Governor.  

The details are enough to put people to sleep, but it sometimes helps to understand the underlying issues.

Schedule Decided

As you struggle to put together a budget, you may be relieved to know that by midnight April 29th we should have the final budget.  At least, final until the Governor finishes his editing.  The four days left of the session will be spread out over the next two weeks with sine die on April 29th.

Committee Action Or Lack Thereof

The House Ways and Means Committee passed out SB 346 revising the assessment and appeals process for property taxes.  It now goes to House Rules.

Senate Finance passed out HB 996 exempting heavy duty equipment from ad valorem taxes.  It ges to Senate Rules.  HB 480, the motor vehicle tax revision, and HB 1020, the SPLOST revision, were not taken up. 

The Setzler Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee did not meet due to the long day in the House -- they adjourned about 7:15.  They will meet at  8 AM Thursday, April 15th, to hear SB 308, the guns bill.

The General Assembly is in recess until Tuesday, April 20th.  The House will convene at 10 AM; the Senate at 2 PM.  Senate Appropriations will meet at 10 AM to vote out the FY 2011 budget.