Georgia Senate approves property tax bill aiming to rein in rising rates


Georgia senators want to limit how much assessed home values can rise for tax purposes, in an election-year effort to hold down property taxes.

The state Senate voted 42-7 on Thursday for Senate Bill 349, which would limit increases in a home’s value, as assessed for property tax purposes, to 3% per year. The limit would last as long as owners maintain a homestead exemption, typically as long as they own a home.

Voters would have to approve the plan in a November referendum.

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“It is to prevent people from being taxed out of their homes,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, the Rome Republican sponsoring the measure. “Their income is often not going up with the taxes, which are going up by the hundreds or thousands of dollars.”

Property taxes are a hot issue for many Georgia lawmakers this year, facing complaints that bills have steadily risen along with home values. And Georgia is far from the only state where lawmakers are reacting to voter discontent over higher levies, with states including Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Pennsylvania seeing the issue take center stage over the past year.

But it’s not clear if the Senate approach will pass, in part because the House has a different property tax cut plan.

A home is offered for sale on Feb. 1, 2024, in Kennesaw, Ga. The Georgia Senate on Feb. 15, 2024, passed a bill to limit how much property values can go up for tax purposes in an effort to slow increases in property taxes. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, file)

House members earlier this month voted 162-0 for a bill that would increase the statewide homestead tax exemption to $4,000 from the current $2,000. That could save some homeowners $100 a year on the tax bills, but it would not apply in some counties that already have local homestead tax exemptions. It’s unclear how many homeowners the measure would benefit.

Key House lawmakers have said they don’t want to impose a statewide cap on valuations, instead allowing such decisions to made locally. Another bill progressing in the House would allow an optional 3% value cap in any county without further legislation.

Republicans in Georgia have long pushed local governments to roll back tax rates to keep bills level, even requiring advertisements labeling a failure to do so as a tax increase. Supporters say a cap on homes’ taxable value would keep school districts, cities and counties from increasing tax revenues by relying on rising values.

“If they raise taxes now, they would have to do it through the front door, and not the back door,” Hufstetler said.

Already, at least 39 Georgia counties, 35 cities and 27 school systems have adopted local laws limiting how much assessed values can rise, according to the Association of County Commissions of Georgia. Some of those limits only benefit homeowners 65 or older.

While the county commissioners’ group has endorsed the plan, the Georgia School Board Association opposes it, saying decisions should be made locally. For most taxpayers, school taxes are the largest part of the property tax bill.

Many governments and school districts have spent the windfall from rising values to increase employee pay and cover inflation-swollen expenses. A 3% cap could mean that governments would have to raise tax rates instead. In states including California and Colorado, property tax limits have been blamed for hamstringing local governments.

“Their concern is districts are going to have a challenge keeping teacher salaries in line with inflation,” said state Sen. Nikki Merrit, a Lawrenceville Democrat who opposed the measure.

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School districts could raise tax rates to make up for lost growth in property values, but most school districts can’t raise tax rates above a certain level. According to data kept by the Georgia School Superintendents Association, some districts are already at or near the tax rate cap.

Statistics show overall property tax collections rose 41% from 2018 to 2022 in Georgia. During that same period, total assessed value of property statewide rose by nearly 39%. Those Georgia Department of Revenue figures represent not only existing property but also new buildings. So they don’t clearly state how much valuations rose on existing homes.

Because the caps could hold down values more the longer someone owns a home, they could result in long-term residents paying lower taxes than newcomers. That’s already the case in some Georgia communities with local caps.



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