ATLANTA - Georgians would pay a new $100 fee to file a civil lawsuit and would pay more to start a corporation, obtain specialty license plates and complete several other official procedures under legislation that moved rapidly through a key House panel Thursday.
The bill contains six new fees and dozens of fee hikes expected to raise nearly $100 million to help fill a widening budget hole. Although Georgia's Republican leaders have said they oppose tax increases to balance the budget, they argued that many of Georgia's user fees haven't been increased in decades and don't come close to paying the cost of administering the services and programs they're supposed to cover.
At the same time, the leadership of the House and Senate pushed for the creation of two panels to offer suggestions for revamping Georgia's tax laws, which they say are outdated and must be fixed if the state is to remain competitive and attractive.
A new bill would establish the 11-member 2010 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians and the 12-member Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure. The tax reform council would include three economists. Outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue and former Gov. Zell Miller also could be on the panel.
"The time to undertake this kind of project is really when times are not so good," said House Speaker David Ralston.
The council's recommendations would be due no later than Jan. 10. The panel's proposals would translate into at least one bill that would be voted on in the 2011 session.
Ralston also supported the fee increases before the House Ways and Means Committee.
"I know that you hear push-back on fees," Ralston told lawmakers. "But to not enact some of those increases is really to condone government subsidies."
* A new $150 fee to hold a hearing for those convicted of drunken driving to reinstate their driver's licenses
* A $250 registration fee for paid lobbyists
* A boost in the airport inspection fee to $100 per runway with a $400 cap
* A $500 jump in fees for conducting fireworks displays
* Specialty license plate fees would jump from $25 to $35.
* Grocery stores and child care centers would have to file new licensing fees, based on their size.
Georgia is facing a $785 million budget hole for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
More than half the fee revenue would come from a new $100 fee on all civil court filings. Sponsor Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, said it could raise $53 million a year.
But local governments said those fees fund the courts and it isn't fair to slap on a fee and then funnel it to the state.
Clint Mueller, legislative director for Association County Commissioners of Georgia, called the plan "a hidden tax increase."
In other action Thursday, the House passed and sent to Gov. Perdue sweeping water conservation legislation.
The bill requires that low-flow faucets and toilets be installed in new construction. It also puts in place a watering ban during some daylight hours.