Lawmakers have abandoned plans to reinstate the state sales tax on groceries but still want to lower Georgia's personal income tax rate to at least 4.5 percent. Top Republicans said they are nearing an agreement on an overhaul of the state tax code. The agreement shaping up would slap taxes on a number of goods and services, including auto repairs and the person-to-person sale of cars. But they are scrapping plans to tax things like Girl Scout cookies, haircuts and veterinarian visits, which had faced fierce resistance from voters. Last year, legislators created a special commission to study the state's tax code. Members spent months traveling the state and issued a set of recommendations in January that included boosting the tax on cigarettes and replacing the 4 percent state sales tax on groceries. But the idea of reinstating the grocery tax was wildly unpopular in the Republican-led House and Senate, where some members campaigned on promises not to raise taxes. Lawmakers also want to eliminate the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, create a uniform, statewide communication service tax of 7 percent and eliminate the exemption on retirement income of more than $35,000 for senior citizens.
ODDS & ENDS
-The House Governmental Affairs committee approved a bill that would allow reservoirs to be built with a combination of public and private funds. House lawmakers approved several amendments tightening revolving door restrictions on state and local government officials. The changes would require government officials to wait three years - instead of one - before they could work for companies with state water project contracts. Sponsored by state Sen. Ross Tolleson, the bill would allow local or state government agencies to partner with private developers to build reservoirs or water treatment plants as the state looks to boost its water supply.
-After languishing for years in the state Senate, a bill that would pave the way for Sunday alcohol sales in Georgia took just minutes to clear a House panel. The House Regulated Industries Committee voted 15-1 to send the legislation to floor vote. No opponents spoke at the House hearing. The measure - which would allow local governments to ask voters if they want to permit Sunday alcohol sales in stores - has already cleared the state Senate, where it's stalled for the last few years. Georgia is one of just three states that bans stores from selling alcohol on Sunday.
-The state Senate has unanimously approved a study looking into whether Georgia can use parts of the Tennessee River basin as a potential water supply. Lawmakers have been weighing alternate water sources in the wake of a federal court decision ordering Georgia, Alabama and Florida to work out an agreement to share water by 2012. According to the resolution passed Tuesday, water from four North Georgia creeks could be stored in nearby abandoned rock quarries that could hold billions of gallons, and could be distributed via a pipeline that could be built along a railroad line.
-The House has voiced support for a stipend for those teachers who earned national board certification before the state incentive was discontinued. The resolution from state Rep. Earl Ehrhart passed 163-2. In an effort to strengthen its teaching ranks, Georgia offered educators who earned national board certification a 10 percent stipend for 10 years. That stipend wad cut in half in 2009 and eliminated entirely in 2010. As the state has wrestled with a budget shortfall it stopped funding the program. Ehrhart said the state should live up the promise it made to educators.
- Georgia physicians came to the Capitol hoping to support a hike in the state's tax on cigarettes as part of a "Bump it up a Buck" campaign. Supporters are calling on the General Assembly to pass legislation that would raise the per-pack tax on cigarettes by a dollar and say such a move could generate $350 million to the state's cash-strapped coffers. A tax council had recommended hiking the tax from 37 cents to 68 cents per pack but the plan appears to be stalled.
-The Georgia Legislature will wrap up the 2011 legislative session on April 14. The House and Senate on Tuesday adopted a resolution setting the calendar for the remainder of the 40-day session. Lawmakers will meet March 31-April 1 and then take off April 4-8, which coincides with many school district spring breaks as well as the Masters Tournament in Augusta. They will hold the final two days April 12 and 14. Last year's session was one of the longest on record, stretching more than three months and ending April 30.
-Hundreds of parents, students and teachers from across the state gathered at the Capitol in support of virtual charter schools. The rally was the third annual hosted by Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education. Senate Majority Chip Rogers will address the educators and families. Parents and students also met with their state lawmakers. Georgia recently approved the Georgia Cyber Academy, a virtual charter school. Three other virtual charter schools are coming online in the fall.
-Georgia lawmakers are announcing a new initiative aimed at making the state a model for creating new jobs and economic progress among women entrepreneurs. Dozens of women business owners converged on the Capitol on Monday for Women Entrepreneurs Day in Georgia and were recognized with a House resolution. According to the resolution, there are 278,250 women-owned small businesses in the state, and Georgia women entrepreneurs and businesses contribute growth to the state economy by generating $40.5 billion in annual revenues and employing more than 229,000 citizens.
-The state Senate recognized Jewish life in Georgia with a resolution inspired by a Vidalia High School freshman. Republican Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford presented the resolution honoring September 2011 as Jewish Heritage Month. Logan Lawrence, a 9th grade Christian student from Vidalia High School, wrote his local legislator, Republican Sen. Tommie Williams of Lyons upon learning that there was no specific recognition for Jewish life in Georgia.
"Frankly, we've heard from some folks back home," said state Rep. Mickey Channell, co-chairman of the Joint Commission of Georgia Revenue Structure, on legislators' decision to abandon a proposal to tax groceries and other things, like Girl Scout cookies and haircuts.
DAYS IN SESSION
7 days remain in the 40-day legislative session.
The House is expected to take up a bill allowing alcohol sales on Sundays. The fiscal year 2012 budget is likely to move in the state Senate. The House is also expected to unveil a bill that would lower the state's personal income tax rate from 6 percent to 4.5 percent and make other changes to the state's tax code, including taxing new goods and services.