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Georgia Lawmakers Drop Plan To Use Sales Taxes for School Construction

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Georgia legislators have scrapped a proposal to fund school construction through voter-approved local sales taxes after meeting resistance from municipal leaders who did not want to have to compete with school districts for funds.

The proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Resolution 159, was abandoned late last month when House leaders did not call it up for a vote. Instead, some of its backers settled for a proposal to study, rather than act on, problems in the state's tax structure.

Education lobbies had supported the original bill, which would have allowed school districts to propose local-option sales taxes, now reserved for county and city governments, to fund the construction of new schools.

Proponents of SR 159 had said it was needed to give districts a chance to do sorely needed school construction aimed at easing the overcrowding of classrooms, without putting additional burdens on property owners.

The measure was strongly opposed, however, by two powerful governmental lobbies, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association.

"We did what we could to stop'' the legislation, said Jerry R. Griffin, the executive director of the county commissioners' association.

Mr. Griffin argued that the bill would have failed to provide enough money to solve the state's educational problems, while at the same time putting "education in direct competitions with cities and counties for municipal outlays.''

Greater State Funding Sought

Walter E. Sumner, the general counsel for the municipal association, called SR 159 "a Band-Aid approach.'' The proposal would have generated much more revenue in some counties than others, he contended, thus resulting in a more inequitable distribution of funding for schools throughout the state.

"The more important question which must be settled is the proper way to fund education in Georgia,'' the municipal association said in a press release calling on the state to take up a bigger share of school costs.

The final blow to SR 159's chances came when Speaker of the House Thomas B. Murphy expressed opposition to the proposal and declined last month to call it up for a vote on the House floor.

Some representatives asserted that Mr. Murphy had effectively killed the bill by refusing to call it up and endorsing, instead, a study of the issue.

Mr. Murphy countered that he had been willing to call up the measure as requested by its sponsors. But, he claimed, sponsors offered the compromise plan once they realized they lacked the required two-thirds majority in the House.

The House Rules Committee last week was considering a compromise bill, Senate Resolution 443, that would create a committee to study ways to eliminate property taxes in the state.

The compromise measure, which was developed with the consent of Gov. Zell Miller, would charge the panel it establishes with finding ways to fund schools through statewide taxes instead of through local property taxes.

The committee would be required to issue its recommendations by the end of the year.

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