Legislative Update
Volume 9, Issue 11         
March 23, 2018
Stay Alert as General Assembly Heads into the Final Week
of the 2018 Legislative Session
Only two official calendar days remain in the 2018 legislative session. Many ACCG priority issues - as well as issues of concern - remain in play. ACCG expects several of these bills may go down to the wire on Day 40, Thursday, March 29. Some legislation may require conference committees between the House and Senate which affords little time for ACCG review. Therefore, it is critically important for county officials to monitor email as feedback is needed or action alerts are issued. Make sure you have a way to text your legislators with concerns as there will be limited ways to reach them!

Following you will find more information on some of the bills that ACCG is monitoring closely. Please contact your legislators with any concerns that you may have.
Senate Finance Committee Approves Bill Reforming Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) with Changes Negatively Affecting Local Governments
A dramatically revised TAVT bill has now passed the Senate Finance Committee and awaits further Senate action. As it passed the House, HB 327 would make needed changes to the TAVT system, which has seen a decline in local government revenues from vehicles over the past several years, at the same time that the state has received a $500 million annual windfall.

This week, the Senate Finance Committee made drastic changes to HB 327. It eliminates the House change to treat the taxation of used cars the same as new cars. It also removes the “hold harmless” local target and the ad valorem “true-up” portion of the distribution formula among local governments. The final allocation amount between state and local governments is changed to 40% state and 60% local. Local governments were receiving at least 67% of all taxes on vehicles before TAVT was enacted. This new Senate version of HB 327 would leave local governments (and particularly school systems) worse off than if no changes are made at all.
Please contact your Senators to urge them to oppose any version of HB 327 that would continue to benefit the state and used car dealers to the detriment of local governments.
For more information, please contact Larry Ramsey at lramsey@accg.org.
Wireless Industry’s Right of Way Preemption Bills Pending in Respective Rules Committees
SB 426 is pending in the House Rules Committee and HB 887 (which the Senate has changed to incorporate the language of SB 426) is in the Senate Rules Committee. Both will likely go to their respective full chambers for votes next week. These wireless industry bills usurp local government management of the public’s right of way (ROW), guaranteeing authorization to construct poles (50’ high), antennas (up to 6 cubic feet in volume and higher than poles); equipment boxes (up to 25 cubic feet in volume), plus up to 4 cabinets (undefined size) and other infrastructure. Local government management of the above is all but entirely preempted and the grounds by which permits can be denies are severely limited. Conveniently, the state is not applying these same prescriptions to DOT and the state ROW.  

Please contact your House members (regarding SB 426) and Senate members (on HB 877) as soon as possible to let them know any concerns you may have with these bills.  

For ACCG’s current concerns, and recommended changes, please click here.  
Omnibus Rural Broadband Bill on House Floor Today!

SB 402, by Senator Steve Gooch and combining language by Rep. Jay Powell’s previous HB 877, is on the House floor today. Among its components, the omnibus rural broadband legislation authorizes EMCs and rural telephone cooperatives to provide broadband service, allows the Georgia Department of Transportation to use or lease their right-of-way (ROW) for broadband deployment, establishes a voluntary “broadband ready community” program for local governments that have streamlined their ROW permitting process, and creates a statewide broadband deployment plan. ACCG supports this legislation. 

For a more thorough summary of SB 402, please click here.
Changes to Assessment of Forestland and Commercial Timber Property Legislation Passes in the Senate

Companion bills that would revise the property tax assessment rules for certain forestland and timber properties will be considered today. HR 51 (a constitutional amendment) and HB 85 address two related topics: properties within the Forestland Protection Act (FLPA) program and non-FLPA commercial timberland.

Under the existing FLPA program, owners of forested tracts of 200 acres or more may voluntarily place those properties under a 15-year covenant restricting the property to that current use. In exchange, the owner receives a property tax break by having the property assessed at its 2008 forestland value rather than at current fair market value. To make up for the resulting tax loss, local governments (counties and school systems) receive annual state grants tied to the difference between the 2008 forestland value and current fair market value.

Under the current versions of HR 51 and HB 85, forestland values would no longer be tied to 2008 values; rather, those values would reset to 2016 values and would then reset every three years thereafter. Depending on how 2008 values compare to 2016 values and beyond, counties may receive smaller or larger FLPA grants from the state. For those local governments that stand to lose money under this changed formula, additional grants would cushion that blow by covering 80% of the loss in the first year, 60% in the second year, and so on until the additional grant is phased out in the fifth year and beyond. In addition, the length of FLPA restrictive covenants would be reduced from 15 years to 10 years. 

Separately, these bills would create a new classification of property for assessment purposes: qualified commercial timberland. Unlike FLPA property, commercial timberland would still be assessed for tax purposes at fair market value. However, the methodology and actual assessment would be conducted by the Department of Revenue (DOR) rather than local boards of assessors, and appeals from DOR determinations would go to the Georgia Tax Tribunal. As protection against properties transferring from the FLPA program (with its associated state grants to local governments) to the commercial timberland assessment process, the fair market value assigned by DOR can never go below 175% of that property’s associated FLPA value.

If adopted by the legislature, this new assessment system for FLPA and commercial timberland properties would be contingent upon voter approval in a state-wide referendum in November.

For additional information please contact Larry Ramsey at lramsey@accg.org.
GATE Reform Bill Approved by the Senate

This week the Senate approved HB 886, which aims to improve oversight of the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) program. GATE exempts from sales taxes items purchases for use in agricultural operations. Purchasers obtain a GATE card from the state, and retailers are expected to not charge sales taxes to GATE cardholders for agricultural items. A 2017 audit by the Georgia Department of Audits found many instances of items that were improperly exempted from sales tax under this program. HB 886 make several changes to the GATE program, including:

  • Making GATE cards available to producers of agricultural products that generate at least $5,000 annually (up from $2,500 at present)
  • Increasing the fee for a GATE card from $25 per year to $150 for a three-year card
  • Increasing the documentation to be submitted by GATE card applicants
  • Increasing state oversight by allowing the sharing of GATE program information between the Department of Agriculture and Department of Revenue
  • Establishing a process for revocation of a GATE card due to improper use

HB 886 now proceeds to the Governor for consideration and signature. Please contact Larry Ramsey at lramsey@accg.org with any questions.
Click on "This Week's Bills" to review the bills included in this week's Legislative Update.

Access the Legislative Tracking Database for a compilation of all bills ACCG is following. 
ACCG Legislative Priority Sales Tax Bill Heads to Governor’s Desk

ACCG is happy to report that a bill promoting one of our 2018 Legislative Priorities - Sales Tax Reform - has passed both chambers of the General Assembly and now awaits the Governor’s signature.

Under existing law, the Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR) cannot share any information regarding sales taxes collected within any particular local government’s jurisdiction. As a result, local governments have no way to know whether they are receiving correct sales tax payments from DOR. In several cases, local governments have later been hit with reduced payments when DOR discovers a prior error and deducts (without explanation due to confidentiality requirements) funds from future sales tax payments – a situation which can have severe impacts on local government budgets. SB 371, by Senator Lee Anderson, will allow counties and other local governments to obtain from DOR a current list of those vendors remitting monthly sales taxes within their jurisdictions. While actual dollar amounts will not be provided, current lists of vendors will allow counties to assist DOR in identifying and correcting discrepancies sooner rather than later.

Under SB 371, local governments may designate a specific official to request and receive sales tax lists from DOR. Boards of Commissioners will be able to review and discuss those lists in executive session but otherwise must maintain the confidentiality of that information.

Please contact Larry Ramsey at lramsey@accg.org with any questions.
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News You Can Use - Articles Related to ACCG Policy Issues
The following are pertinent articles regarding some of the major policy issues that ACCG is covering. The full article can be accessed by clicking on the title.

WABE - March 13, 2018

Politically Georgia - March 22, 2018

Insider Advantage - March 23, 2018
Register for the 2018 ACCG Annual Conference!

ACCG is YOUR county association here to advance all Georgia county governments. Please feel free to let us know when you're visiting the State Capitol this session, and a member of the policy team will gladly assist you as needed. Don't forget to use your 2018 Legislative Toolkit when conversing with your state legislators!