ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Transit and property tax relief for homeowners will be two of the key issues on the agenda as the 2018 Legislative Session kicks off this week in Atlanta.
Speaking at a Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce breakfast Jan. 4 in Alpharetta, nine members of the local legislative delegation told some 80 local business leaders they plan to pursue some form of property tax relief in the wake of last year’s resident protest.
“Every person up here has heard from constituents and been involved in talking about it and looking at what we can do about it,” said Rep. Jan Jones, speaker pro tem of the Georgia House. “I’m sure this is the year to do that so folks can continue to afford to live in North Fulton and predict what their property taxes will be.”
The tax protest ignited last May when homeowners received new property assessments that increased home values by as much as 50 percent for a quarter of the county’s homeowners. Fulton County commissioners ultimately overturned the new assessments, but the county has yet to deal with the fact that assessments on many homes have lagged far behind the state’s prescribed schedule.
State Sen. John Albers said he, too, will work to address local property tax assessments, adding that he received more than 7,500 emails on the issue. Albers has proposed an annual 3 percent cap on property tax assessments and providing some relief for seniors by way of a homestead exemption.
On the issue of transit, Jones said she wants to see more accountability for the money that’s already being spent locally before authorizing more local assessments to fund MARTA.
Right now, Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton residents pay a one-cent sales tax to fund MARTA’s transit system. Atlanta voters passed a half-cent increase in their MARTA sales tax in 2016.
“I am gravely concerned that we are getting very, very little for the 1 percent that we’ve been paying for 40 years,” Jones said. “I’d like to see a proposition for what can North Fulton get for the 1 percent they’re paying now?”
Sen. Brandon Beach, long a proponent of transit expansion in some form, said the only solution to solving the transportation problems in Metro Atlanta is to get more counties on board. He said he would like to “rebrand” MARTA and bring Cobb and Gwinnett counties into the fold, making a total of five core counties. Cobb and Gwinnett voters have repeatedly rejected taxing themselves into MARTA, although each operates its own bus system.
“If we get those five playing in the same sandbox, we’ve made a lot of progress,” Beach said.
Rep. Chuck Martin said he wants to evaluate the whole idea of transit for the area to determine which avenue makes the most sense to move people. Heavy rail, by far the most expensive facet of the current system, may not make sense everywhere, he said.
“Let’s look at moving people – not just building things,” he said.
Martin also addressed state income taxes. Recent federal tax legislation, he said, has made the state income tax more expensive because it eliminates the ability of residents to deduct state taxes from their income.
“Now your 6 percent state income tax actually costs you 6 percent,” he said. “It used to cost you only 72 or 75 percent of that or 67 percent.”
Rep. Betty Price said the number one issue for Fulton County this year is property taxes and she plans to pursue legislation to provide for a 3 percent cap on property tax assessments and explore implementation of homestead exemptions for seniors.
Rep. Brad Raffensperger said he wants to make Georgia more welcoming to military veterans who want to start a business. He said he would like to start by extending business fee reductions to those veterans filing for their first corporation.
Raffensperger successfully sponsored legislation last year to cut red tape by reducing the frequency that businesses must file with the Secretary of State’s Office.