The exemption was instituted in the 1970s. But amid unprecedented school district budget shortfalls this year, some residents contend the county can no longer afford the exemption.
But any attempts to change it, including raising the age limit, would have to originate with the school board, said Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers.
"The process is as follows - the School Board would need to pass a resolution asking that a local referendum be held to remove the exemption from school property taxes for seniors. The local delegation would then need to pass it as a local referendum. The governor would be required to sign the referendum and then it would be placed on the ballot," Rogers said. "Cobb voters would ultimately make the decision."
More than 39,000 seniors in Cobb take advantage of the optional exemption, Tax Commissioner Gail Downing has said. Earlier this month, she added a form seniors can fill out if they wish to remove their exemption to her office's website at www.cobb tax.org, though she said that only one senior homeowner has submitted the form since June 4.
School board members
David Banks, of northeast Cobb, and David Morgan, who represents southwest Cobb, said they would not repeal nor increase the age limit for the exemption.
Board Chairwoman Lynnda Crowder-Eagle, who represents northwest Cobb, and Alison Bartlett, who represents south central Cobb, said they would consider making changes to the exemption, but not repealing it outright.
"I will not be in favor of repealing it," Bartlett said. "I am willing to look at it and see if we can tweak it a little ... What I'm willing to do is put it on the discussion table, really understand it, and see if there is a way to tweak it that would not hurt our home sales, and yet increase our revenue."
Bartlett said she has received a lot of suggestions from constituents, such raising the age limit; enacting an income restriction; or requiring a period of residency before a senior can take advantage of the exemption.
A majority of the school board candidates were even more strongly opposed to repealing or revising the exemption.
School board candidates
Southeast Cobb, Post 2
Incumbent Democrat Holli Cash, who is up for re-election this year, said she might be open to modifying the exemption.
"I would favor a resolution to review the current tax and compare it to what other counties are doing," Cash said. "I do think there should be a senior tax exemption of some kind."
Her primary opponent, Democrat Patrick Stafford said he would not repeal the exemption or raise the age limit.
The Republican in the race, Tim Stultz, said the same.
North-central Cobb, Post 4
Kathleen Angelucci, who is one of the two Republicans vying for the seat now held by Dr. John Abraham, said she would not consider repealing it or raising the age limit.
Her opponent, Bill Borden, said, "No, I personally am not in favor of repealing the senior tax exemption."
"However, I do believe the voters should have the option of repealing it, keeping it 'as is' or adjusting the age limit of this tax as they see fit," Borden said.
East Cobb, Post 6
Republicans Jim Snell and Scott Sweeney, who are seeking to succeed Dr. John Crooks, both said they would not be in favor of repealing the exemption or raising the age limit.
Dr. Rick Welkis, the lone Democrat in the race, said he would only be in favor of raising the age limit if it made a significant impact in the district's revenue stream.
"I would need to see the revenue projections associated with each year above 62 (i.e., 65 vs. 62) in order to make a decision on whether to raise the age," Welkis said.
The four candidates in Cobb's two contested state Senate primaries agreed they would not increase the age limit on the exemption, or eliminate it outright.
Incumbent Republican Sen. Judson Hill, east Cobb, District 32: "I do not support a tax increase on seniors or anyone else."
Challenger Lynda Coker: "I am not in favor of raising taxes on anyone."
A spokesman for incumbent Republican John Wiles, Kennesaw, District 37, said: "Sen. Wiles doesn't support elimination or change to current law regarding this issue."
Challenger Lindsey Tippins: "I don't support removing or raising the age of the senior exemption."
Republican Rep. Earl Ehrhart, of Powder Springs, a leader in the House who is so far unopposed in his bid for reelection to represent District 36, neither supports doing away with the senior exemption nor raising the age.
"The reasons behind a senior exemption that were there when we passed it are still there today," Ehrhart said.
Cobb has 14 seats in the House, and although all General Assembly seats are up for election in November, only seven of Cobb's representatives have opposition for the July 20 primary.
Of the candidates who face a primary contest and who responded to the Journal by press time, only incumbent Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, a south Cobb Democrat seeking re-election in District 39, said she was undecided whether to change or end the exemption.
"I like it, but I think that and many other exemptions have to be reviewed. Quite frankly, you're giving too many exemptions as a state - not necessarily the one given to seniors. In these serious economic times that we're in, the silver lining here is that it's forcing us to look at who gets exemptions and why and do the ends justify the means," she said.
Morgan's Democratic challenger, longtime educator Betty Gray, said she would make no changes to the exemption.
"I'm not going to make any recommendations for any tax increases or decreases at this point in time. It is urgent that we take a look at the total tax structure, and it couldn't come at a better time than now as needs are identified and not satisfied," Gray said.
Buddy Simpson, a Republican challenging incumbent Judy Manning to represent the Marietta and north-central Cobb District 32, said he does not favor any changes to the exemption.
"Senior citizens should be exempt from the school tax because they do not have any children attending public schools," Simpson said. "I would not ask seniors to pay a tax for a service they do not use."
In southwest Cobb's District 33, both Democrats in the race - incumbent Don Wix and challenger David Wilkerson - said they would not try to end the exemption, or raise the age limit.
Their fellow Democrat, incumbent Terry Johnson of south-central Cobb's District 37, also said he would make no changes to the exemption.
"You would be hard pressed to find legislators that would blatantly attempt to generate more tax revenue on the shoulders of our elderly through elimination of this popular exemption. Other options and sources of revenue should be explored," Johnson said.
In east Cobb's District 41, Calvin Rhodes, who is challenging incumbent Sharon Cooper in the GOP primary, said he would not change or end the exemption.
"Many seniors live on fixed incomes and simply cannot afford more taxes," Rhodes said. Also, "raising the age of the senior exemption would indicate you agree we are spending the almost 18 billion dollar state budget effectively - I don't."
Two other incumbents, Republican Don Parsons, of District 42 in northeast Cobb, and Democrat Sheila Jones, of District 44 in southeast Cobb, both said they would not alter the exemption.
"I will not sign local legislation to remove the exemption. I will not vote to remove the exemption. In my sixteen years in the legislature, I have heard members of the Cobb School Board whine and complain about this exemption, but not one of them has ever put his/her signature on a request to remove it and I doubt that any would be willing to do so today," Parsons said.
"The Cobb School System has been top heavy as long as I have dealt with it, and continues to be top heavy," he said. "I would like for the Cobb system to show me one thing that their many layers of administration have taught the children of Cobb County. Our teachers are the ones who teach our children."
Jones said that instead of changes to the exemption, "I would work to restore state funding to education, which will serve our children and help maintain the exemption for seniors."