Ga. House swiftly approves tax code changes, including exemption for married couples

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ATLANTA — Despite calls to slow down, House lawmakers on Tuesday passed legislation that would change Georgia’s tax code to allow married people to keep more income and phase out property taxes on motor vehicles as people buy new or used cars and trucks.

The legislation, approved 155-9, blazed through the House in just over a day, an unusually quick pace that reduced the opportunity for critics to derail it. A combination of Democrats and tea party groups last year sunk a much broader proposal to change the state’s tax code, arguing it would have increased the tax burden on the middle class.

This year, House lawmakers focused on narrower changes. House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, promised more tax changes in the coming years, including an examination of tax rates for individuals.

“You don’t always get what you want the first time you ask for it,” Ralston said. “But I think this is a good and substantial beginning and it’s a beginning that I’m very proud of.”

The legislation, supported by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, now heads to the state Senate, which could vote as early as Thursday. The package would give tax cuts to ailing manufacturers and to companies that bring new jobs to Georgia and create sales tax holidays for residents buying back-to-school and energy-efficient goods. Those perks cost money. Budget analysts estimate the tax breaks will create a roughly $50 million deficit next year, a gap equal to less than 1 percent of the current budget.

The rushed pace alienated some conservative and tea party groups normally friendly to tax cuts.

Julianne Thompson, the statewide coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, said at a news conference that lawmakers should put off a vote until residents can read and analyze the complex tax proposal. The legislation was introduced Monday and amended Tuesday morning, just hours before it passed.

Ralston rejected their criticism. He said the bulk of the legislation had been written in various forms for more than a year.

“People that complain about the process on this bill simply hadn’t read it and hadn’t done their homework,” he said. “I don’t ever remember a process more thorough, more painstaking than this one.”

The plan would eliminate the annual property tax paid on motor vehicles purchased after March 1, 2013. Instead, motorists would pay a one-time fee based on the vehicle’s value that tops out at 7 percent in 2015. People who purchased their cars and trucks before the proposed change in the law would continue paying annual property tax bills until they buy another vehicle.

Married couples could claim $1,000 to $2,000 more in money exempt from the state income tax under the plan.

OTHER LEGISLATION

• A joint legislative panel moved swiftly Tuesday to pass a proposal that would overhaul Georgia’s criminal justice system. It addresses changes ranging from alternative approaches to offenders with addiction or mental health issues, to new guidelines for certain crimes, along with mandatory requirements for reporting suspected child abuse and provisions for restrictions of who can access a job-seeker’s criminal record. It is expected to head to the House today for a full vote.

• The Senate passed a bill that would allow liquor tastings at Georgia distilleries, pushed as a way to boost tourism. The bill headed to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk after a vote of 34-14 that followed contentious debate over an amendment that would have also allowed wine tastings at package stores. Supporters of the amendment argued distilleries had an unfair advantage.

– Associated Press


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