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State budget expected to dominate legislature

By Tamra Jarrett Rep. Billy Maddox joined his colleagues at the capital in Atlanta Monday for the start of the 2009 legislative session. ; The big issue to be addressed is the budget. There’s no doubt it’ll be the budget, Maddox said last week. Georgia is facing a shortfall of some $2 billion and planning for the upcoming year will be a challenge. Spending cuts were ordered by Gov. Sonny Perdue last year and state agencies had to cut their budgets and freeze salaries. ; Maddox, whose district 127 includes Pike, Upson and part of Lamar counties, said the first thing they will tackle is the supplemental budget. Georgia is halfway through its budget year and will work on adjustments to carry it through June 30. He said some of the House and Senate leadership have been in budget talks but he had not heard any specifics yet. He has with him this session local legislation he plans to introduce. ; Commissioners asked Maddox to work on legislation to implement a rollback to freeze property values at the Jan. 1, 2007 digest rates. It would mean property values for those who now own property would not go up but would be based on market prices for those who buy property here in the future. Property values for new residents would roll back to the fair market value at the time of purchase. Maddox is being asked to move legislation to rename state highways in Pike in honor of prominent citizens. One is naming part of Highway 19 for the late Shi Holmes, a local historian and former clerk of superior court who died in 1999. Commissioners passed the resolution in January 2003 and revisited it last fall. Commissioners are also seeking to have part of Highway 19 named for Tony Lumley, the Georgia state trooper killed in the line of duty, and parts of Highway 109 named for the late Donnie Dickens, who served as Pike road superintendent and a school bus driver. There may be other legislation Maddox will be asked to sponsor. Earlier this year the school board agreed to move forward with senior tax relief to increase the exemption from school taxes for citizens 65 and older to $50,000 and provide a total exemption from school taxes for citizens age 70 and older. They would apply only to the school portion of property taxes. Commissioners gave the proposal their seal of approval so it could be introduced to the general assembly but it did not get presented in the 2008 session. State Sen. Ronnie Chance said he would look into it during the 2009 session if the school board still wants it. Maddox said he hopes the legislature can minimize the effect on local school budgets. Our schools have to be properly funded, he said. Affecting not only Pike but the entire state are transportation, school vouchers and a proposal to cap the rate at which home assessments could rise. We have a part-time legislature but it’s a full-time commitment, Maddox said. He was one of five members of the general assembly who had perfect attendance and voted on every bill in 2008. I’m optimistic and hopeful Georgia will come out of this period of economic distress leaner and more efficient, he said.

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