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VOL. 118 | NO. 53 | Tuesday, March 30, 2004

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Passed through Senate Judiciary committee last week

State Lawmaker Seeks Tax Relief for Seniors

ANDREW BELL

The Daily News

Under ordinary circumstances, pursuing an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution might seem like a long shot.

However, inspired in part by last years monumental legislative change that gave rise to a new state lottery, Tennessee Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is optimistic about a proposal that could lead to permanent tax relief for senior citizens.

Tax help. The Homestead Tax Exemption Resolution proposes a freeze on the assessed value of the primary residences of homeowners 65 and older.

Where we have all these things that are driving people out of Shelby County and into Mississippi and other neighboring states, we need to do everything we can to make people feel at home and keep their homes, Norris said.

A similar resolution was adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1979, but was deemed unconstitutional the following year in a legal dispute in Shelby County Chancery Court. The ruling cited constitutional language expressing that all taxes must be levied equally and without exception.

Norris said the law has remained idle on the states book of laws for 25 years.

Lengthy process. Only a constitutional amendment, which would require a majority vote by the state legislature this year, two-thirds approval next year and majority approval in a state referendum the following year, would legalize the tax exemption.

The resolution, which received approval in a senate judiciary committee meeting two weeks ago, has two conditions.

One, its language must provide local governments the option to adopt it, and two, it must enable legislators to set caps on income levels for participating seniors.

This is an optional proposal, meaning if a municipality wants to pass an ordinance to do this, OK, but if they dont want to, they dont have to, Norris said. Its an enabling amendment.

Fiscal impact. Shelby County Trustee Bob Patterson said his staff studied a similar proposal several years ago that would have frozen property taxes for seniors whose incomes did not exceed $45,000.

That proposal would have cost the county about $10 million annually. With an income cap of $25,000, all other citizens would pay one cent more in annual property taxes.

Patterson supports the plan with a cap of $25,000.

It must be at a level that we can survive in Shelby County, he said. But at $25,000, that is a number I think would work statewide.

Already, the county has 6,000 low-income senior citizens who receive tax relief through a state program. Patterson said most states offer some form of homestead tax relief.

Last week, the Shelby County Commission delayed a request to provide input on the proposal.

Concerns. Several commissioners expressed concern about difficulties in recapturing lost revenue.

There is no doubt that this is something senior citizens would want, and I am for it, if we can find a way to make it work, said commission member Deidre Malone.

One request among commissioners is assurance that legislators would set the income cap rather than letting each district set its own.

If commissioners set the level, they would expect undue lobbying for increases every year locally, Patterson said. Once you commit to this, you dont get out of it.

Norris said the proposal has been well-received.

I have received more calls and e-mails than anything else, he said. Its because this is real tax relief.

In support. Brian McGuire, Tennessee legislative director for the AARP, said the organization is about to launch a campaign in support of Norris proposal.

We think the issue is important, McGuire said. It may be a long struggle, but one worth pursuing.

McGuire said the states current number of senior citizens, 850,000, is expected to double by 2030.

The proposed tax freeze could not be authorized until at least 2010, since constitutional referendums can only take place in gubernatorial election years.

 

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 71 233 2,852
MORTGAGES 74 171 1,954
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 37 312
BUILDING PERMITS 125 894 6,595
BANKRUPTCIES 34 206 1,183
BUSINESS LICENSES 19 115 606
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0