I wrote last year about Georgia legislation [AJC Paywall] that capped Fulton County’s property tax ‘millage’ rate and limited its ability to increase that rate. This legislation reached the Republican-controlled House because the Fulton County delegation in the legislature was transformed by redrawn legislative districts to yield a Republican majority in both House and Senate (in a county that voted by 2/3 for Obama over Romney!). At the time, Fulton County officials denounced the attack on home rule and the fact that north Fulton Republican legislators were enlisting their partisan allies across the state to manage Fulton County’s affairs.
That battle just got serious, as Michelle Wirth writes for WABE Atlanta.
After hearing protests over the prospect of $4 million in cuts to senior services, $27 million to Grady Hospital (the public health resource of last resort for the county’s poor and uninsured), and $7 million to libraries, the Democratic controlled Board of Commissioners in Fulton County has defied the legislature by enacting a 15% millage rate hike in their 2014 budget.
House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (representing a north Fulton constituency that would like to separate itself into a new county) invoked the legislation, the state constitution, and the favor of Attorney General Sam Olens who, as a former Commissioner of adjacent Cobb County, certainly shares her antipathy to taxation and the public sector:
“That law, which I authored last year, was passed and it is based on a local constitutional amendment that was passed in the 50s, reauthorized in the 80s, and unequivocally, definitively gives the legislature the authority to stop the Fulton County Commission from raising its millage rate.”
Representative Jones is currently in talks with legislative legal counsel and plans to speak with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens. She says if county commissioners finalize the millage rate later this year , there will be consequences.
Democratic Fulton Board of Commissioners Chair John Eaves seemed prepared to pick a fight over the legislation on home rule grounds:
“If it has to come down to some sort of legal fight, we’ll do it. Our sovereignty as a local jurisdiction is at stake, and we’re not going to allow state legislators who are a step removed from local residents to dictate what we’re going to do.”
Honestly, the north Fulton contingent in the legislature has made considerable progress in its “shrink Fulton County Government to bathtub-size” agenda and seems sufficiently committed to see it through. For Eaves and his allies to reverse the trend politically, they need only (1) for Democrats to retake the legislature (2) coincidental to a redistricting period (3) and commit to a legislative agenda whose principal constituency is African Americans in Atlanta and south Fulton and that therefore threatens to alienate white suburban moderates. In the hundred or so years it might take for those things to happen, the County might as well go to court.