Bill would let Georgia schools drop property tax rates and still get state aid

Property tax rates could drop in some Georgia school districts under a House plan that would let districts with low property wealth continue to qualify for state aid even if they decrease property tax rates.

The House voted 161-12 on Tuesday for House Bill 987, sending it to the Senate for more debate.

The measure would let districts drop their minimum property tax rate to 10 mills, from the current 14 mills, and still be able to qualify for state equalization funds.

“This bill has the potential to lower property taxes for thousands of Georgia citizens across the state,” said Rep. John Corbett, a Republican from Lake Park.

It’s one in a series of measures that Georgia lawmakers are considering this year to reduce property tax bills. The House also wants to increase the statewide homestead tax exemption, which would cut property tax bills for homeowners in some counties. The Senate, by contrast, is seeking to limit the future increase in homeowner property values, as assessed for tax purposes. Senators believe that move, in turn, could decrease future increases in property tax bills.

Some school districts in recent years have told constituents they can’t decrease tax rates, despite rising property tax values, because they would become ineligible for millions in equalization money.

Georgia is distributing $756 million in equalization funds this year, with districts allowed to spend their share as they see fit. The money is aimed at making sure districts that don’t have much valuable property to tax still have enough money to educate students. It has traditionally most benefitted districts in the southeastern part of the state, Georgia State University scholar Nicholas Warner found in a 2019 study

The equalization program began in 1987 with a minimal tax rate required and the state spending $84 million. But with the cost of the program rising and state tax revenues stagnant, lawmakers rewrote the program to require districts to tax property at 14 mills or greater to participate, beginning in 2019.

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