Harbin calls for special session

The chairman of the Georgia House Appropriations Committee told Columbia County officials Tuesday that a special session of the Legislature is needed to address the state's expected $900 million shortfall in revenue.


During a meeting of state lawmakers and county officials, Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, said Gov. Sonny Perdue has initiated budget cuts in existing programs because that is all he is constitutionally allowed to do.

"We need to go in and end programs we don't need, and the only way we can do that is with a legislative session," Mr. Harbin said. Though enough support exists in the House to convene a special session, he said too many senators are resistant to the idea.

Other issues discussed Tuesday included water resources and funding for road construction.

County commissioners also expressed their frustration with a new law that imposes a moratorium on property assessment increases for the next three years. But the law doesn't freeze the value of properties that decrease in value. Properties sold during the moratorium period are taxed at their moratorium value unless improvements are made.

The law cost the county about $2 million in tax revenue and forced a two-month delay in revenue collections because it required the Tax Assessor's Office to upgrade computer software.

Typically, tax assessment notices are mailed during the second week of May. This year they were mailed Friday.

Mr. Harbin and state Rep. Lee Anderson, R-Grovetown, said no one warned them of the potential software issues in the many times the measure was discussed, and they intend to discuss the omission with Department of Revenue officials.

To fund transportation needs, Mr. Anderson, a member of the House Transportation Committee, believes the state likely will impose a 1-cent sales tax.

Mr. Harbin said he hopes some oversight will be instituted to make the board of directors of the state Department of Transportation less political. That way, he said, more money can be appropriated for fast-growing areas such as Columbia County.

Mr. Harbin said lawmakers must "remain vigilant" against anyone trying to pass legislation allowing for inter-basin transfers. State law protects the Savannah River and Thurmond Lake against such transfers, but Mr. Harbin warned that someone could try to change that.

Economics might also protect the river's water, said state Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling.

"One thing we got in our favor is the Port of Savannah," he said. "It takes a certain amount of water to keep them (ships) afloat, and that is the second largest port on the East Coast."

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.