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Senator Tommie Williams, "The People's Business"
Friday, 06 February 2009
February 6--  (Editor's Note:  The following commentary is provided by Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons, President Pro Tem of the Georgia Senate.)
 The Georgia Senate was successful in passing many bills significant to taxes, the budget, education, and transportation.  These issues are pivotal to many Georgians and the health of our State’s economic development. 

Homeowner tax relief also took center stage this week with the passage of Senate Bill 83, which doubles the Homestead Exemption from $2000 to $4000 with automatic adjustments for inflation.  The Homestead Exemption Act became State law in the 1930s.  The tax exemption was proposed at $2000 and has remained that amount ever since.  The Homestead Exemption adjustment proposed will protect homeowners from possible HTRG cuts in the future.  Additionally Exemption funds would not be subject to appropriated funding decisions each year.  The funds would be guaranteed to those it impacts most – the taxpayers.  I encourage my colleagues in the House to pass this bill quickly for the benefits for all Georgians. 

The General Assembly has been committed to finding the funds to provide homeowners with their Homeowner Tax Relief Grant (HTRG) for 2009.  The House and Senate passed House Bill 143 providing HTRG funding this year.  The provisions of the grant have also been adjusted to provide for HTRG when Georgia’s budget is in surplus.  During this tough economy, homeowners can be assured that the General Assembly is working hard to bring them some relief this year as we also work toward long-term economic solutions. 

My colleague and good friend, Senator Eric Johnson, proposed true education reform by introducing Senate Bill 90, a voucher bill to provide parents with universal public and private school choice that will improve education in Georgia and will prepare our workforce for the global economy.  Every parent in Georgia should have the freedom to choose the best school for their child.  By allowing existing funds to follow the child to the school which best meets their needs, our test scores and our ability to compete for jobs will improve.  Georgia taxpayers already provide school choice to special needs students, pre-kindergarten students and college students through the HOPE scholarship.   Senator Johnson’s bill extends that same choice to all of Georgia’s students.  The bill does have guidelines for schools and applicants which protects schools from overcrowding or drastic student reductions.  Applying free-market competition principles to our schools creates an environment of improvement for schools, counties, and ultimately students.  School choice is good for parents, good for students, good for education and good for the economy. 

Georgia is one step closer to transportation reform.  The Transportation Local-Option Sales-Tax (TSPLOST) bill passed through the Senate and is now in the House for debate and passage.  Transportation is not a Republican or Democrat issue; but one that affects all Georgians. The TSPLOST bill offers flexible solutions to meet the diversity of needs across the state, allowing voters to decide what projects in their area need funding the most.   The TSPLOST will generate up to $1.2 billion for the entire state. Investing in transportation infrastructure will produce jobs and a better economy, capitalizing on the relationship between transportation development and economic growth. 

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