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Consumers didnt get much from this session
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With the legislative session finally concluded, what did Georgia's lawmakers give to middle-class Georgians? Not much.

For the second year in a row, legislators could not agree on a funding mechanism to pay for new highways, leaving motorists stuck in traffic on our congested road system.

This was an issue where middle-class families were in agreement with business interests, who also have been clamoring for a solution to the congestion crisis.

The budget adopted on the last night of the session will probably mean a property tax increase of between $200 and $300 for homeowners next year. Faced with a $3 billion shortfall in revenues, lawmakers dropped the $430 million from the budget that normally goes to counties so that homeowners can receive that modest property tax exemption.

Continued cutbacks in state formula funding for education could also force local school boards to increase property taxes next year.

"Georgians need to prepare themselves for the largest property tax increase in our state's history, thanks to Republican leadership," House Minority Leader DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) said. "This fiscal irresponsibility at a time when families are struggling to pay the mortgage, their utility bills and put food on the table is unacceptable."

Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, however, commended legislators for doing a good job under trying conditions.

"It's never fun in an environment such as we are in to cut things," Perdue told House members shortly before adjournment. "I think you've done an admirable job."

Legislation that could be costly to consumers is SB 31, which will allow Georgia Power to start increasing ratepayers' monthly bills in 2011 to raise $1.6 billion for the construction of nuclear units at Plant Vogtle.

The higher rates will be in effect for at least six years before the nuclear plants are even built and in operation. SB 31 was amended so that industrial firms and other large business customers will pay a smaller proportion of the rate increase than consumers and small businesses.

Georgia has one of the weakest predatory lending laws and one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. Sen. Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton) tried to pass SB 57, which would have provided more assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure because they can't make their mortgage payments.

A version of SB 57 that was supported by consumer advocates could have been put on the House calendar for adoption. Rules Committee Chairman Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), a beneficiary of campaign contributions and corporate airplane rides from lending industry executives, would not call the bill for a committee vote and it remained off the calendar.

"House leaders today turned their back on the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who've lost their homes, or face losing their homes," said Allison Wall, executive director of Georgia Watch. "House leaders are ignoring Georgia families, choosing instead to protect the irresponsible industry practices that brought down our economy."

Another badly needed service, an upgrading of the state's network of trauma care facilities, is in line for a small amount of state funding that will still not be enough to pay for all the necessary improvements.

The only measure to pass that could benefit trauma care is the "super speeder" bill that increases by $200 the fine paid by drivers caught speeding 85 mph or more on the state's four-lane highways.

The revenues generated from the increased fines is supposed to provide $23 million a year for trauma care, but healthcare advocates have expressed concerns that the money might be used for other purposes instead.

No legislative session is complete without some immigrant bashing. The House and Senate approved the final version of SB 86, which will require persons to provide documented proof of citizenship before registering to vote.

Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel supported the proof-of-citizenship bill as necessary to protect the integrity of state elections, but critics of the bill contended it was another attempt to suppress voter turnout by Latinos, blacks and other minority groups that tend to support Democrats.

"This is just another opportunity to display a false sense of patriotism," said Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth), one of the first Latinos elected to the General Assembly. "Why are members of the Senate so scared of people who look and sound different?"

After a session like this one, maybe they should be scared of Georgia's voters.
(Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service at that covers government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at .)