As we closed out the month of February at the State Capitol, the House was extremely busy working on an amended budget for the current fiscal year, a new transportation plan, and more good news for homeowners.
On Thursday, Feb. 26, we passed House Bill 118 – the amended fiscal year 2009 budget. At nearly $19 billion, the House cut approximately $2.6 billion due to declining state revenues, including $6 million in local assistance grants that fund projects in our own districts.
I am happy to report that the budget does include $40,000 to fund new food safety inspectors after the salmonella outbreak at a south Georgia plant. This is a huge victory for consumers. We were also able to save funding for important programs to help our elderly and needy populations, including Meals on Wheels, and we were able to restore funding to keep Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime labs open. This is a budget that meets the needs of our citizens in a time of economic crisis and paves the way for our work to begin on the fiscal year 2010 budget.
The good news for homeowners keeps coming and this week it was the Senate that acted. I am happy to report that House Bill 233, adopted two weeks ago by the House and includes a two-year cap on property tax assessments, was approved by the Georgia Senate and now moves to the Governor for his signature. Property tax relief was one of our top priorities this legislative session and with the passage of this act combined with the continuation of the state-funded property tax relief grants Georgia homeowners will not see their property tax bills go up this year.
Next week, the House will take up House Bill 277 – the Georgia 2020 Transportation Act. Transportation is also an extremely important issue this legislative session and we are making great progress. The Georgia 2020 Transportation Act is a forward looking solution that will create the Georgia 2020 Transportation Trust Fund and the Georgia 2020 Transportation Trust Fund Oversight Committee to oversee the funds.
The legislation provides for one-cent special transportation sales tax collected statewide and deposited into the trust fund. The Governor, Lt. Governor and the Speaker will appoint the members of the oversight committee and funds will be used on specific projects outlined in the legislation. This is a crucial transportation bill that I believe when combined with additional legislation to change our transportation bureaucracy will move our state forward.
In the House Agriculture committee, we passed two important bills this week: House Bill 516 and House Bill 529. HB 516 seeks to end local ordinance discrimination against ‘modular homes’ and instructs the Safety Fire Commissioner to create safety standards and an inspection process for these manufactured homes and their residents. HB 529 forbids any county or local government from adopting or continuing any local ordinance that regulates the production of agricultural or farm products on any parcel of land that is five acres or greater in size and in no way affects any local zoning or land use plans. These bills must be cleared by the House Rules Committee before being heard by the full House.
The House also passed a bill that will allow Georgia Power to more efficiently fund the construction of two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. This will ensure Georgia’s growing population will have an abundant electrical supply. The measure will also save rate payers hundreds of millions of dollars in interest by allowing the construction of the plant to be financed as it occurs.
We also passed HB 229, which is related to school physical education. The bill requires that schools beginning in the 2011-2012 school year assess and report on the fitness level of its students each year. It empowers the state board of education to determine the required elements of the fitness test. It then requires that the aggregate results be presented to the state board of education and governor for analysis. This will help ensure that students in Georgia schools are staying healthy and fit.
I will continue to keep you up to date on our actions as the legislative session progresses. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at your Capitol office at (404) 656-5115.
Rep. Tom McCall (R), Elberton, is the District 30 member of the Georgia House of Representatives, which includes the southern half of Madison County, all of Elbert County and the eastern portion of Jackson County.