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Eric Stirgus
By Eric Stirgus April 30, 2012

New tax law fulfills campaign pledge for married couples

Saying "I do” has had one particular pitfall in Georgia, many state leaders have complained over the years.

Married couples, they say, don"t get much of a benefit on their state income taxes.

In 2010, Nathan Deal campaigned for governor with a promise to change the rules.

"Nathan Deal has committed to eliminate unfair treatment of married couples under the state income tax system,” the candidate said in a press release during the campaign. "Strong families benefit our communities, and state policies should always seek to promote marriage rather than see it as a chance to take a few more dollars for the treasury.”

So has Deal, who"s been in office for more than a year now, come through on that promise?

On April 19, Deal signed House Bill 386, an overhaul of the state"s tax system. The law includes some changes regarding income tax exemptions for married couples.

"An exemption of $7,400 shall be allowed as a deduction in computing Georgia taxable income of a taxpayer and spouse, but only if a joint return is filed,” the new law says. "If a taxpayer and spouse file separate returns, $3,700 shall be allowed to each person as a deduction in computing Georgia taxable income.”

The new rules on these deductions take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

If you are married and filed your taxes separately from your spouse, the exemption under the outgoing law was the same as afforded to single Georgians: $2,700. The exemption remained the same for single filers. The exemption on a joint return was previously $5,400.

Deal explained his objection to the prior guidelines on his campaign website, referring to the state"s standard deduction:

"[I]f a married couple earns $50,000 total, their tax liability would equal $2,236. If two single filers each earned $25,000, equaling the same $50,000 in total, their tax liability would equal $2,020. The difference in tax liability results in a $216 ‘marriage penalty." ”

State officials say the vast majority of Georgians use the personal exemption when filing their taxes. The average married couple will see an additional refund of about $120 with the changes, officials say.

The changes do, as Deal noted, change the footing for married and single Georgians. They do remove the penalty if you"re married and file separately. Thus, we rate this as a Promise Kept.

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