Gov. Deal, who is expected to sign the bill soon, must be commended for his work on HOPE reform. Together, we made tough but necessary decisions that will result in a long term solution- not a quick fix. While this bill is not 100% reflective of the change I had hoped to see, it is still a substantial step in the right direction for our children.
HOPE is funded entirely through lottery dollars. Over the years, past benefits have been increased as tuition prices and population have increased; lottery sales have remained steady. Cuts, although unfortunate, were desperately needed. Under the changes, HOPE scholarships for college and HOPE grants for technical schools are no longer fixed but rather will adjust based on lottery revenues. This will ensure that HOPE has a long sustainable life. In the fall of 2011, Georgia students who attain at least a 3.0 grade point average will receive HOPE scholarships or grants totaling 90 percent of their state college tuition.
For those who prove the need, the federal Pell Grant will cover much of their college costs (or in some cases all of the costs) beyond HOPE. Likewise, our very best students will receive an additional scholarship to cover their entire state college tuition. Students who achieve a 3.7 grade point average and score at least 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT will receive the Zell Miller Scholarship named after the former governor and former U.S. Senator who started the HOPE program. The HOPE reform bill also funds a 1-percent interest loan program that will help students presently covered under HOPE to bridge the gap between actual tuition cost and HOPE awards.
The economy of our state and the future of Georgia businesses, communities and families depend on our ability to keep our best and brightest students in our state. We can do this by offering them a great education and a way to pay for it. I am confident that we made the best compromise for families across our state. HOPE will endure today, tomorrow and for generations to come.
As Chairman of the Finance Committee, I heard testimony this week on Senate Bill 234 sponsored by Majority Leader Chip Rogers. This bill seeks to make multiple revisions regarding assessments and appeals of ad valorem valuation for local taxing purposes. It improves upon our Property Tax Reform bill from last year and puts in place important measures which aid property owners in the appeal process. These changes will create a fair and open appeal process for each and every Georgian. Bills that help protect the time and monies of hard working Georgians are important to me, as well as my colleagues in the Majority Party. This bill passed out of the Finance Committee unanimously.
Tax Reform (and consideration of the recommendations from the Tax Reform Council) remain a priority for the General Assembly. Now is a good time for us to look at the benefits of a broader, simpler tax system that decreases the burden on Georgians.
Georgia is 49th in per capita state government spending, which makes our state taxation one of the lowest in the United States. Each year we must be diligent about balancing our budget as our state constitution prohibits us from going into debt. We are working hard to ensure that any changes made to our tax system are not made to increase revenues.
One tax theory that has become popular in recent years is one based on a Fair Tax philosophy. The current recommendations by the Tax Reform Council make a step in this direction. Over time, our income tax rate would be adjusted from our current rate of 6% to 4% through the removal of certain tax exemptions. I have heard from many on the recommendations of the tax council. It is vital that we hear from our constituents on these issues so that we know where you stand on the idea of moving Georgia toward a consumption based tax structure.
As always, I am humbled and thankful to represent the fine citizens of the 31st district. I hope that you will take the time to reach out to me and share your ideas or opinions on the issues I've touched on this week or any other issue that is near to your heart.