Last of Fulton County bills pass the Senate

But homestead exemption bill is shelved for another year

“We should just change the name of this body from the Georgia State Senate to the Fulton County Commission because we’re getting into the business of running this county,” announced a frustrated state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, minutes before the chamber approved four GOP-penned bills affecting the beleaguered county.

Adding to the three Fulton-centric bills passed last week, the Senate today addressed House Bill 380, which would overhaul the Fulton school district’s pension system; HB 594, which would bump future county government employees—other than cops—out of the employee merit system, meaning they can be fired without review from the county personnel board; HB 598, which does the same thing for employees of the Fulton Magistrate Court; and HB 604, which would require a super-majority commission vote—five out of seven—to raise the county tax rate, beginning in 2015.

Fort took the Senate well to point out that Fulton hasn’t raised taxes in more than twenty years, then mock-apologized to his fellow senators: “You all have better things to do than to govern Fulton County,”

“We believe the (state) Constitution does not permit what we’re doing here today,” Fort concluded, explaining that general legislation cannot be used to manipulate tax policy of individual counties.

Other speakers let their passions overwhelm the Senate’s unspoken rule against personal attacks.

“What you’re seeing is a personal vendetta by a former county commissioner who was inept at her job and came down here to try to tear the county apart,” said Sen.
Donzella James, D-Atlanta, an apparent reference to Rep. Lynne Riley, R-Johns Creek, a sponsor or co-sponsor on all of the Fulton bills.

Perhaps the biggest news, however, was what the Senate didn’t do, which was to call up HB 541, the controversial bill to double Fulton’s homestead exemption. Penned by Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, that bill is intended to cost the county an estimated $48 million in property taxes (which is why it was deemed necessary to pass the bill to hinder a tax increase).

Jones’ bill passed the House only with the intervention of Speaker David Ralston, but had no such champion in the Senate, where has it floundered.

Told that these were the last of the Fulton bills that would come before the Senate this session, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the chamber, let out a whoop.

“Let’s hear it for Fulton County!” he hollered.