The Nov. 4 ballot amendment No. 1 question reads like this:
"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the General Assembly by general law shall encourage the preservation, conservation, and protection of the state's forests through the special assessment and taxation of certain forest lands and assistance grants to local government?"
The passage of this Georgia Forest Land Protection Act of 2008 sounds like a good idea for everyone. However, the "state's forests" that the amendment would preserve are privately owned tracts of land of more than 200 acres or more. The "protection" the land would get is a tax exemption for the land owner.
On the surface this bill is being promoted to protect the forest industry and to assure clean air and clean water. Although the forest industry is important to us all, it should be noted that timbered acreage and volume are greater today that when this country was first founded.
It is estimated that passage of this bill (HB1211) would collectively remove $54 million per year from the timbered rural counties throughout the state. Although the state promises to repay a percentage amount to each county, most, if not all county governments and school systems, would have to charge more taxes to make up the shortfall. This is assuming that the state of Georgia will find adequate funds to repay each county - which is highly unlikely at this time.
Most qualifying timbered tracts are located in central and south Georgia. Many of these counties have a very limited economic base with little growth opportunity. The passage of HB1211 will compound the tax burden in many of these counties, including Jefferson.
It is true that passage of HB1211 will save tax dollars for a number of timberland owners. Is it fair to add the tax burden of the neighbors and metropolitan friends while many of the benefiting land owners live outside of Georgia and even outside of the country?
As far as maintaining clean air, clean water, and green space, it should be noted that the majority of today's existing timberland will remain as timberland for decades to come. Although ownerships will continue to change, economics - more so than HB 1211 - will determine the changes in land uses.
The wording of HB1211 is designed to make it hard to say "NO" to preserving our "state's forests", but the real truth is that it would burden the taxpayers unfairly. Georgians are facing the possibility of losing millions in tax revenue because Gov. Sonny Perdue is withholding funding for homeowner property tax relief. Should these Georgians actually believe that the state will provide rebates for lost timberland taxes? Please vote NO for Amendment No. 1 on Tuesday.
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