Senate revives senior tax break

ATLANTA - A bill eliminating taxes on Georgia retirees championed by Gov. Sonny Perdue received new life Monday when the Senate voted to attach it to a related bill.

But the legislation's ultimate fate remained in doubt when Speaker Glenn Richardson said he wouldn't allow it to reach the House floor.

The bill, one of the governor's top legislative priorities, would exempt seniors 65 and older from state taxes on retirement income. The tax relief would be phased in from 2009 to 2013.

Perdue pitched it on the campaign trail during his successful re-election bid last year, telling voters it would not only help seniors but boost Georgia's economy.

"He felt like it would be an economic benefit ... because more retirees would consider Georgia as a place to live," Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said Monday. "It would bring Georgia in line with ... other neighboring states."

The bill was introduced in the House in late January. But it took weeks to get through the Ways and Means Committee and failed to reach the floor before the General Assembly's "Crossover Day" deadline for bills to pass the legislative chamber where they originated.

House Republican leaders decided not to act on the governor's bill or several other tax-reform measures and instead craft a more comprehensive overhaul of Georgia's tax policy for consideration next year.

But their Senate counterparts disagreed and attached Perdue's legislation to another House bill that revises tax breaks associated with college savings plans.

During a brief debate on the Senate floor on Monday, Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, cited a study showing that 96 percent of the tax relief contained in the governor's bill would go to retirees with incomes of $100,000 or more.

Unlike an existing tax break for seniors that the legislature passed in 2003, Perdue's first year in office, the new bill would not apply to earned income.

"We are saying to the wage-earning senior who's still out there on a time clock, 'We're keeping a tax on your income,'" Orrock said. "But for those fortunate enough to have over $100,000 flowing in ... in retirement income, 'We're going to give you total tax relief.' ... It's not a fair approach."

But many Democrats joined the Senate's Republican majority in passing the bill 43-5.

However, Richardson, R-Hiram, fired a preemptive shot across the Senate's bow on Monday that likely means serious trouble for the bill in the House.

About three hours before the Senate passed the bill, the speaker vowed to keep it off the House floor. He said Georgia's Constitution requires all tax bills to begin in the lower chamber.

"Revenue bills originate in the House," he said. "If they want to introduce a revenue bill, they can run for the House."