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Holt aims to amend state constitution
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State Rep. Doug Holt (R-Covington) has joined with six other representatives to co-sponsor legislation to modify the Georgia Constitution with an amendment which would specify the uses budget surpluses can be put to.

House Resolution 1216, the Taxpayer Divided Act, would set conditions on how excess state revenues can be spent.

 According to a press release on the resolution, in years of budget surplus, excess revenue would be spent firstly on education to account for any increases in student enrollment in local systems.

 After education shortfalls have been addressed the surplus would be used to bring the state Revenue Shortfall Reserve to 8 percent of the previous fiscal year's spending levels.

When both those items have been met, any extra surplus would be returned to the taxpayer with an increase in the personal income tax exemptions for all Georgians.

Because it is an amendment to the Constitution, HR 1216 requires a two thirds majority in both the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate before it goes to Georgia voters in a referendum. Holt said the sponsors of the resolution are hoping it can be put on the ballot this November.

"I very much agree that it's sound fiscal policy and that we'd very much like to see it put before the voters," Holt said of the resolution. "After we had such a rough discussion over what to do with the surplus revenues last year, it just finally struck me that the business as usual of simply taking the surplus revenues and spending them without any real prioritization wasn't good common sense."

Last year legislatures debated calling for a special session to override Gov. Sonny Perdue's veto of a $142 million property tax rebate. By executive action the $142 million was placed in the state reserve.

According to a July 2007 Georgia Budget and Policy Institute report on FY 2007's year end revenue, the state closed out the fiscal year with a $550 million surplus including the $142 million. Approximately $180 million of the surplus was allocated to address education funding shortfalls.

HR 1216 is sponsored by Tom Graves (R-Ranger) and is currently in the House's Ways and Means Committee.

"It really surprises me how often the constituent calls aren't from folks who need governmental help to solve a problem," Holt said of his reasoning in returning excess surpluses. "Often times they've gone to a government agency to get something done and it's been mishandled or dropped. The attitude of bureaucrats involved is atrocious. I don't think Georgian tax payers need that."

HB 956

After the first hearing of House Bill 956 two weeks ago, Holt is optimistic the issue it seeks to address - strengthening the validity of county commission and city council rezoning decisions in the eyes of the court - can be dealt with in another way.

"The first hearing really brought in a lot of folks," Holt said. "It seems to have generated a bit of legal ruckus and may have opened up another avenue of solving the problem."

Holt said he may have the opportunity to have legal precedent - which he was originally seeking to have codified in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated - inserted into a continuing judicial education class for all of the state's superior court judges. The legal precedent Holt wants inserted backs up the rezoning decisions of local governments in the event they are sued by a landowner.

"Having more than one route to solve the issue is great as far as I'm concerned, Holt said. "There's no sense on putting another law on the books if we can get it resolved in another way."