Perdue signs homeowner tax grant bill, reluctantly

ATLANTA --- Gov. Sonny Perdue on Tuesday signed legislation funding homeowner tax relief grants worth $200 to $300 a household even as he continued to deride them as ineffective.


The tax relief came as Mr. Perdue ordered yet another round of budget cuts for state agencies to help fill a deficit that ballooned Tuesday to $2.6 billion.

The $787 billion federal stimulus package -- which many Georgia Republicans have criticized as bloated -- prevented the state from making even steeper cuts and helped fund the tax relief grants.

Mr. Perdue's signature on the tax bill Tuesday means that homeowners will not be hit with a second property tax bill this year. But local government lobbyists said property taxes would almost certainly rise down the road.

The legislation agrees to funnel $428 million to the tax relief grants for the current fiscal year but ties the grants in future years to the state's economy. The state's dismal economic outlook is unlikely to improve anytime soon.

Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell told Augusta commissioners Tuesday that he's still not sure whether the money will be put toward the 2008 or 2009 budget year.

Augusta's share of the tax-relief grants is $3.1 million, which reduces urban taxpayers' bills by $293 and suburban bills by $241. Augusta's situation is complicated because the government is on a January to December fiscal year rather than July to June, and both last year's and this year's budgets were set assuming the grants program would continue. The 2008 financial books are still being closed, Mr. Russell said. If the city comes in over budget, the released funds will be applied to last year. Otherwise, the grants could be rolled forward, sparing Augustans a 2009 tax increase, Mr. Russell said.

In Columbia County, commissioners had cut 2.61 percent of the current budget to compensate for the potential loss of $1.45 million in tax credits. Commission Chairman Ron Cross said last week that if the governor restored the tax grants, the county would likely maintain its budget cuts. A phone message left for Mr. Cross on Tuesday was not immediately returned.