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House rejects speaker's tax reform plan

ATLANTA - The House Wednesday shot down Speaker Glenn Richardson's tax reform plan, his signature cause for the last year, refusing to supply the two-thirds majority needed to put it before Georgia voters.

Voting largely along party lines, lawmakers rejected an 11th-hour bid by Richardson, R-Hiram, to scale down what had started off as a bold proposal to abolish property taxes.

The final version of the plan, anchored by a provision scrapping Georgia's car tax, won the support of 110 of the 180 House members, 10 shy of the margin required to pass a constitutional amendment.

Only seven of the chamber's 73 Democrats supported the measure, while only one Republican - Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta - defied the speaker by voting against it.

Richardson criticized Democrats for denying Georgians an opportunity to vote on major tax relief this November.

"Democrats today voted against the largest tax cut in Georgia history," he said in a prepared statement. "After a year of hearing from Georgians about how needed tax reform is, I am disappointed that the Democrats ignored the wishes of our citizens."

Other Republican leaders vowed to use Wednesday's vote against Democrats on the campaign trail this summer and fall.

"I hope the voters of Georgia are paying attention," said Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter, R-Alpharetta, who originated the car tax repeal several years ago. "They see which party wants to give tax relief to Georgians."

But House Minority Leader DuBose Porter said he and his Democratic colleagues didn't oppose getting rid of the car tax.

"There was a lot of sentiment in our caucus for taking the tax off car tags," said Porter, D-Dublin. "But the other parts of this bill really had disastrous effects for local government."

Besides the car tax provision, the final version of Richardson's plan called for freezing the assessed values of all residential and commercial properties.

During his presentation of the plan on the House floor, he said that would prevent local governments and school boards from using property revaluations to raise more tax revenue without the political pain of having to vote for a tax increase.

The speaker's plan also sought to place a cap on the growth of local tax revenue.

It would have prohibited local governments and school boards from raising their property tax revenues by more than 5 percent a year, on average, unless they sought voter approval for a larger increase.

"How many of your constituents get a 5 percent pay raise every year?" Richardson asked his colleagues.

Those limits on assessments and revenue drew fierce opposition from organizations representing cities, counties and school systems at the Capitol.

"By defeating this plan, legislators have indicated they understand and respect the value of allowing local communities to govern themselves," Jim Higdon, executive director of the Georgia Municipal Association, said in a prepared statement.

House Republican leaders said there would be no attempts to resurrect Richardson's tax reforms in the wake of Wednesday's vote.

That cast an air of uncertainty over how to pay for a widely supported statewide trauma care network.

The speaker's plan called for levying a $10 registration fee on cars to fund trauma care.

"I don't know what we do now," said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island.

SideBar: How They Voted

House members representing districts in Gwinnett and Barrow counties voted along party lines on Speaker Glenn Richardson's tax reform plan:

Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson

Yes

Rep. David Casas, R-Lilburn

Yes

Rep. Mike Coan, R-Lawrenceville

Yes

Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth

Yes

Rep. Clay Cox, R-Lilburn

Yes

Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn

Yes

Rep. Melvin Everson, R-Snellville

Yes

Rep. Hugh Floyd, D-Norcross

Absent

Rep. John Heard, R-Lawrenceville

Yes

Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth

No

Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain

No

Rep. Robert Mumford, R-Conyers

Yes

Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill

Yes

Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross

Yes

Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula

Yes

Rep. Brian Thomas, D-Lilburn

No

Rep. Len Walker, R-Loganville

Yes