ATLANTA - Two days remain for Georgia's lawmakers to answer tough questions on transportation funding and plans to stimulate job growth, as well as dozens of other bills.
Following a marathon session today, the legislative session will wrap up when the final gavel falls Friday night.
The only thing the state constitution requires legislators do is pass a balanced budget for the 2010 fiscal year within the allotted 40 legislative days.
Before Friday, House and Senate lawmakers will work through reams of bills. In the Senate alone, lawmakers are scheduled to consider 56 pieces of legislation.
In conference committee Thursday they'll try to hammer out an agreement on competing plans to fund transportation with a 1 percent sales tax increase.
While the House plan would let voters enact the tax statewide and fund a specified list of projects, the Senate steadfastly has lined up behind a county-by-county optional sales tax increase plan sponsored by Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
IN THE SENATE
Senators will consider legislation today including:
House Bill 2 - Updates provisions of current law related to illegal immigration.
House Bill 86 - Allows that absentee ballots must be counted by precinct, and separate returns must show the results by precinct.
HB 120 - Authorizes the annual sales tax holiday for school supplies and energy efficient appliances.
HB 278 - Allows local school system to waive the expenditure control requirements under the Quality Basic Education Act.
HB 304 - Revises the rights of county appraisers, tax assessors and authorized agents of the county to go onto property to conduct official business.
Source: Senate Press Office
Another bill hanging in the balance is the Republican plan to spur job creation and thin the unemployment rolls.
Sponsored by Ranger Republican Rep. Tom Graves, House Bill 481 would give a tax credit of up to $500 to companies that hire from the unemployment rolls, and $2,400 for any that keep the new workers on for at least two years.
But House and Senate lawmakers first will have to work out a compromise after senators revived a portion of the bill that gradually would eliminate Georgia's 6 percent corporate income tax by 2023. That provision was stripped from the House's version at the urging of House leaders who seek more information on its impact, lawmakers said.
Attracting new companies and creating jobs are of such importance now that the corporate income tax elimination likely won't prove a stumbling block, said Rep. Martin Scott, R-Rossville, a co-sponsor.
"I feel we're in the big league for competition for manufacturing jobs," he said, noting the possibility of attracting vendors serving the Volkswagen plant under construction in Chattanooga.
The bill also includes a provision Rep. Scott added to return the roughly $5,000 in sales tax deposits businesses must leave with the state.
A conference committee will begin talks on a compromise today, Rep. Scott said.
The session began with a record $2.6 billion budget deficit for 2009, and an equal deficit opened in the 2010 budget.
Lawmakers so far this session spent most energy closing the roughly $5 billion in deficits in the amended 2009 and 2010 budgets without cutting core services, Rep. Scott said.
An influx of federal stimulus money helped close some of the budget holes - well over $1 billion worth.
The amended 2009 budget already has been signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
The 2010 budget probably will be up for final approval on the session's final day Friday, Rep. Scott said.
"Despite the extraordinarily difficult economic times, we will be able to meet the essential needs of the state and maintain the same low-tax status we have had," he said.
Contact Jake Armstrong at 404-826-3587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.