Thursday, January 29, 2009

A sure(hell)-fire way to raise state funds? Tax all 7 Deadly Sins
by K. Patrick Jensen
Georgia Online News Service

The "wages of sin" don't pay too badly in Georgia where tobacco, liquor and the lottery contribute millions of dollars to fund state operations in bad and good economic times.

Faced with a $2 billion-ish budget shortfall, legislators are thinking of new ways to raise public revenues from private actions. And Georgia certainly isn't alone. Cash-strapped legislatures nationwide are looking at "sin taxes" for some revenue, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Gaining attention in Georgia on Thursday was a bipartisan proposal to charge strip club patrons with a $3 to $5 so-called "pole tax." The fee, according to proponents, would be designed to help fund programs to help child prostitutes and sexual abuse victims.

State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) said Thursday there are links between the adult entertainment industry and the underground world of child prostitution with the state having to pay for health, corrections and other costs when juveniles turn to prostitution. "This is the industry that creates the problem. They're financing what they created," she told the Associated Press on Thursday.

State Sen. Jack Murphy (R-Cumming) said he'll introduce the bill next week, but it's unclear how much revenue would be raised. Proponents say it's cheaper to have rehabilitation of juvenile prostitutes than incarceration.

Some Atlantans, meanwhile, are proposing a casino at Underground Atlanta, making use of gambling tied to the Georgia Lottery and bringing in possible millions more to the state from those greedy enough to seek a quick fix to financial woes.

Sin can pay – albeit for good causes like helping kids caught in prostitution – but one could argue Georgia and other states aren't going far enough. We traditionally have had Seven Deadly Sins – lust, gluttony, greed, pride, envy, anger (or wrath) and sloth. Let's tax 'em all.

Many of these taxes wouldn't have to be just statewide. A Local Option Sin Tax (LOST) could be established for local officials hoping to cash-in on our lesser natures.

Here are some modest proposals to make some bucks off each of the Seven Deadly Sins:

Lust: Besides strip-club patrons, printed pornography, X-rated movies on hotel televisions, racy singles bars and lurid advertising would be possible sources if we can get by that pesky First Amendment. Just imagine, any racy billboard would mean money in the public's pocket. Or, thinking way out of the box, some libertarians might say just legalize prostitution and tax the heck out of it. The Legislature could limit the world's oldest profession to casino districts.

Greed: A generation of pre-k and college students have benefitted from Lottery winnings, which since starting in 1993 have provided $10.3 billion for education. So the wages for the sin of gambling has been better prepared preschoolers, better educational technology and more college grads.

The proposed Atlanta casino gambling could provide new windfalls, especially if the state Constitution is amended to provide for more games of chance. And, if Atlanta gets a casino, could Savannah or Macon be far behind? Gambling profits tend to come from the poor so why stop with them in gathering revenues from greed? A "windfall" tax on CEOs' and executives' salaries for any company doing business in Georgia would certainly boost the budget if not the spirits of workers losing their jobs. And, if oil companies boost pump prices again, hit them in the pocketbook with a windfall corporate tax. Make greed pay for the public.

Gluttony: Gov. Sonny Perdue has proposed taxing health care with what he describes as a 1.6 percent fee on hospitals and health insurance plans to help fund health programs. Instead, with obesity a major health care cost, let's institute the "Twinkie tax." Snack foods would have an extra nickel tacked on for health care, except for the products of any politically-powerful soft-drink companies based in Georgia. But the tax wouldn't stop there. Add 25 cents to each all-you-can-eat buffet meal and the state would be well on its way to financing health care. Proposals to boost alcohol taxes and add Sunday sales of booze could also help fill alcoholic gluttons and the state coffers.

Envy: One could argue envy in the form of trying to have homes we can't afford and greed by those approving unpayable mortgages is at the root of our home foreclosure and credit crisis. But how to tax that form of envy is beyond me.

In Dante's purgatory, the punishment for the envious is to have their eyes sewn shut with wire. Many Georgians have their faces and bodies sewn for plastic surgery so they can look beautiful and defy age. Let's tax voluntary plastic surgeries.

The envy tax would be collected from anyone wanting what another has. Since most young adults smoke to be like those who they consider cool, the proposed $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes could also help cut smoking while punishing envy. Add a 1-cent tax to any clothing line by a celebrity, and we'd be on the way to reducing state cutbacks.

Pride: This sin biblically goeth before the fall, and certainly a lack of humility would have described many developers before they went belly up because of the recession. So a tax on developers of McMansions, expensive condos or unneeded strip malls would not only seem fair but just since so many of them have gotten away with shoddy construction in a state that seemed to pride itself that all you needed to be a developer was a toolbox and pickup truck.

Anger or Wrath: Perhaps the biggest example of anger/wrath in this legislature are proposals to lower the standard on death penalty cases from a unanimous 12 jurors agreeing to the sentence just because the defense of courthouse mass slayer Brian Nichols somehow convinced three jurors to spare his life. But how to tax the wrathful who'd throw out a traditional judicial standard of unanimity just because of one case is, again, beyond me.

When one thinks of inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger, talk-show hosts come to mind. The anger tax would be aimed at those who stir up anger in the populace, no matter their political leaning. The tax would be on every talk-show pundit or political blogger who receives talking points daily from either major party or major political action committee. Of course, the first Amendment would be a hurdle to this action, but those not plugged into the nationally dispersed opinions would not have to pay a penny for their thoughts.

Another thought would be to charge any Georgia or Georgia Tech fan a nickel for every public or on-air angry outburst against the rival school. We could have taxmen and taxwomen at games and sports bars with cans to collect the money. Other potential anger-tax targets: road-rage drivers, lawyers and overbearing bosses.

Sloth: Lack of an overall transportation plan, inadequate health care, an education system that still ranks low nationally, ineffective action on the drought, and failure to lower an often-fatal teenage driving age are just a few of the reasons this tax should be placed on members of previous legislatures. Here's hoping in these bad economic times this General Assembly will find a way to get to work and get along well enough to take action on issues that eluded their predecessors when financial times were good.

K. Patrick Jensen is a former editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes about faith and suburban issues.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. Have you done your daily dose of sinning? If so, those guilty pleasures are likely to come back and slap you – in the pocketbook. Actually, as veteran political reporter Kris Jensen tells us in his report for the Georgia Online News Service, if the state would get serious about taxing the seven deadly sins, it could do a lot to ease the budget crunch.

Meanwhile, GONSO business writer Jeanne Bonner says Georgia's businesses are lining up at the Gold Dome to be heard. At the top of the business agenda are predictable concerns over crises such as transportation and water – but other groups, such as the beleaguered homebuilders, are also clamoring for relief.

Finally, Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia's Children, has a message for the Legislature: Don't forget the kids.

Do you like what you're seeing from the Georgia Online News Service? Send us your comments, rants and story ideas. Do you need something covered in your community? We're listening, so give us a call at 800-891-3459 or write me at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org.

John F. Sugg, Executive Editor


Today's GONSO

A sure(hell)-fire way to raise state funds? Tax all 7 Deadly Sins

by K. Patrick Jensen
COMMENTARY/HUMOR

The "wages of sin" don't pay too badly in Georgia, where tobacco, liquor and the lottery contribute millions of dollars to fund state operations in bad and good economic times.

Faced with a $2 billion-ish budget shortfall, legislators are thinking of new ways to raise public revenues from private actions. And Georgia certainly isn't alone. Cash-strapped legislatures nationwide are looking at "sin taxes" for some revenue, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Full Story

Transportation top concern for business community

by Jeanne Bonner
Solving the state's transportation woes is business leaders' top priority for the 2009 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly that reconvened this week.

Business officials say the problem goes beyond congestion in metro Atlanta, which affects the coastal cargo ports and everything in between. The lack of a comprehensive transportation solution is undermining efforts to lure companies to Georgia, they say, and hampering the ability of existing firms to move goods around the state and attract employees.

But transportation is one of the few large issues affecting business expected to advance this session. The state's dire financial straits should prevent more ambitious legislation. Both Democrats and Republicans in the Georgia Senate proposed transportation bills this week that would hinge on a sales tax to fund road, bridge and transit projects.

Full Story

Lesson for legislators: Don't forget the children

by Pat Willis
After a year of rising unemployment, a housing market crash, credit crisis and diminishing tax revenue, it's hard to imagine that anyone was sad to see 2008 go.

Georgia, like other states, begins a new year with budget woes that could mean deep cuts in vital programs and services. There's no way around it. But it's important in these tough times to maintain a solid foundation for future growth when the economy improves.

Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
The high price of cheap gasoline
by Tex Pitfield
Plan for best use of Chattahoochee’s water is criticized
by Maggie Lee
State parks have "great value" – but not to budget writers
by Wendy Parker

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