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State playing with local taxes
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Forsyth County News
When this year’s session of the Georgia General Assembly is completed, don’t expect local elected officials to be sending many thank you notes to their lawmaking colleagues at the state level.

Friday, the state House passed a bill that is a strong first step toward eliminating tax grants which had been promised local governments, and some form of the measure is likely to win approval in the Senate as well.

The tax grants were proposed by the state a few years back as a way to reduce local property taxes.

The idea was that the state government, which at the time was banking surplus funds due to remarkable economic growth, would return to local governments some of the excess revenues so that local property taxes could be reduced.

Now the state’s economic picture isn’t so rosy, and the tax grants seem destined to come to an end. If they do, then local governments will be forced to find ways to reduce their budgets or increase property taxes at the local level.

And if taxpayers become irate at increased property taxes at the local level, their anger will be directed toward county commissioners and school board members, not members of the state Legislature.

The tax grant legislation isn’t the only bit of legislative activity directed toward local governments and their financing.
Another bill under consideration would limit the amount by which property assessments could rise in any given year.

Assuming that at some point in the future we return to a period of economic growth during which property values are increasing rather than decreasing, an artificial limit on assessments also would have a significant impact on local property taxes.

It also would create an ever-widening gap be-tween the amount of property taxes paid by long-time property owners as compared to newcomers.

Yet doing that is easier than debating meaningful reform of the entire property tax system, which would be a task worthy of the legislature’s efforts.

If lawmakers approve the arbitrary assessment limits, they should also remove restrictions as to the maximum millage rates allowed to local school systems, but don’t count on that happening this legislative session.