Originally created 02/11/02

Gas price, tax holiday bills ready



ATLANTA - The hot political topic of natural gas deregulation could move to the front burner this week as the Georgia General Assembly approaches the halfway mark of its 2002 session.

Sen. Regina Thomas, D-Savannah, said Senate leaders have promised a committee would consider her year-old bill to re-regulate the state's natural gas industry.

Ms. Thomas and others have argued that the Legislature's 1997 vote to deregulate gas has led to higher prices and worse service for Georgia customers.

On Friday, Ms. Thomas was prepared to start a legislative procedure that could have pushed her bill out of the Finance and Public Utilities Committee and before the full Senate for a vote. With support from Senate Republicans eager to give Democratic leaders a political black eye, she was said to have enough votes before she halted the effort.

In the House, the Ways and Means Committee is expected to take up Gov. Roy Barnes' proposal for a four-day sales-tax holiday. The bill was engrossed on the House floor Friday, meaning it cannot be amended as it makes its way through the Legislature.

"This is meant to be very limited," said Rep. Charlie Smith, D-St. Marys, the governor's floor leader in the House and one of the bill's co-sponsors. "Without the engrossment, you'd encourage a lot of demagoguing. People would want to eliminate the sales tax, which is one-third of our revenue."

The legislation would set aside March 29-30 and Aug. 2-3 as sales-tax holidays throughout Georgia. Shoppers wouldn't have to pay taxes on items of clothing worth up to $100 each, school supplies up to $20 per item and personal computer equipment up to $1,500.

Mr. Barnes is pitching the proposal as an economic-stimulus measure, particularly in counties along Georgia's borders with South Carolina and Florida, where stores lose business to shoppers who cross over into those states to take advantage of their tax holidays.

Conservative revenue estimates have allowed Gov. Roy Barnes to propose a major property-tax cut in 2002 for the fourth year in a row and still leave enough money in the budget to maintain a substantial "rainy-day" fund. According to the figures below, Georgia's governor is recommending the largest tax cut in the South, while the state's reserves are fourth highest in the region.

State.............. Net Tax cut (minus sign) or tax hike (in millions)

Alabama.............................0

Arkansas.........................-2.3

Florida........................-108.1

Georgia........................-349.0

Kentucky........................150.0

Louisiana...........................0

Maryland.........................-4.0

Mississippi.........................0

Missouri........................-24.5

North Carolina..................652.8

Oklahoma........................-11.3

South Carolina...................77.1

Tennessee...........................0

Texas.......................did not respond

Virginia............................0

West Virginia...............did not respond

Sources: National Association of State Budget Officers, Georgia Office of Planning and Budget

State..........Estimated reserves (millions).....Percent of total budget

Alabama.................$13.............................0.2%

Arkansas..................0...............................0%

Florida................$941.............................4.6%

Georgia................$735.............................5.0%

Kentucky...............$119.............................1.6%

Louisiana..............$193.............................3.0%

Maryland...............$563.............................5.2%

Mississippi............$168.............................4.7%

Missouri...............$152.............................1.9%

North Carolina.........$288.............................2.0%

Oklahoma...............$341.............................6.5%

South Carolina..........$63.............................1.1%

Tennessee..............$178.............................2.4%

Texas..................$884.............................2.8%

Virginia...............$903.............................7.3%

West Virginia...........$63.............................2.1%

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Reach Doug Gross and Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.