Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Georgia GOP: Anti-Local Control Tax Zealots

I'm beginning to wonder just which wing of the Republican party these Georgia GOP anti-local control tax zealots belong to.

Like Glenn Richardson, Macon Rep. Allen Peake (my rep) wants you to pay sales tax on your child's daycare, dentist visit, haircut and scores of other services. He took to the editorial pages of the Telegraph yesterday to make clear his support of the Georgia GOP's Great Big Tax on Everything. Not only will you be paying a brand new tax on all services, if the Georgia GOP gets their way, local governments will be reduced to going hat in hand to Atlanta for their money. That should work out well-for Atlanta.

Opponents to this proposal are fighting to be first in line at the Glenn Richardson dunking booth. (If we did that and charged admission, we might not need the tax at all.) That liberal organization, The Georgia Municipal Association makes a compelling case this scheme is "not so great" after all.

In fact, in this scheme, metro-Atlanta (where property values are high and where control will be centered), big multi-state corporations and developers are the big winners, while Georgia's middle class, the service industries and rural counties are the big losers. If this tax plan becomes law, more than ever before, rural Georgia, where 87 counties are considered to be in a state of "persistent poverty" will be supporting the growth of metro-Atlanta.

Plus, don't you think that this GOP scheme is giving pause to business and industry considering locating in the state. If the resolution passes the legislature, it would need the approval of voters in November of 2008 before it could be implemented. That means that for the next year-at least-new business and industry considering moving into Georgia would not be able to accurately estimate what their costs might be. They would view Georgia's economy as unstable or at least as in a state of flux. Uncertainty does not attract business, and I'm betting this proposal has already scared off development deals that were in the works.

Regardless, Peake wants to make sure that you know he is concerned about the epidemic problem of Georgians being forced from our homes because we can't afford to pay our property taxes. I wonder just how many owner-occupied homes were lost last year in Georgia because of failure to pay property taxes? I don't know the answer yet, but I intend to call up our tax commissioner-while he still has a job-to find out. The truth Peake, Richardson and their comrades aren't telling is that it's not property tax, but health problems and medical bills that are most often the straw that sends the middle class into bankruptcy. I'm sure they will be leading the fight to make quality, affordable healthcare available for all Georgians.

Peake says that 70% of Georgians own their homes. He's almost right about that. According the the University of Georgia's Initiative on Poverty and the Economy, 67.5% of homes in Georgia are owner occupied, but in Peake's home county of Bibb, only 58.8% of homes are owner occupied. Plus, in high poverty and rural counties, mobile homes figure prominently in the % of owner occupied homes. For example, in Crawford county 84.76% of the homes are owner occupied, but 41.07% of those are mobile homes. That compares to about 12% of owner occupied homes in Georgia that are mobile homes. That matters because it is one factor that makes property values in rural Georgia much lower than in metro-Atlanta.

Finally, Peake makes the point that there are just too many entities in Georgia who can levy taxes. I wonder if he felt that way last session when he was the first sponsor on legislation to create a charter for Payne City in Bibb County-a charter that obviously includes the authority to levy taxes. Now, Peake seems to feel that state lawmakers are in a better position to make decisions about taxation than local governments. I disagree. Just this year, lobbyists for special interests spent nearly a million dollars wining and dining legislators during the forty days of this year's session. Of that, according to the Sate Ethics Commission, Peake himself took $1,785.85 worth of meals and hockey tickets, more than any other Bibb County legislator. So, unless you've got a lobbyist working for you in Atlanta, I think we're better off trusting locally elected officials to take care of local interests.

The bottom line is that no one likes taxes, and there is a need for tax reform in Georgia, but making the service sector the tax collector for the state while shifting the burden of taxation more and more to the middle class and removing control from local elected officials is just a great big mistake.

This is cross-posted at Tondees Tavern.

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