Time for Georgians to get real about taxes|
by Rep. Stacey Abrams
Years of economic prosperity have spoiled Americans. We have grown used to a culture of credit – of immediate gratification with the debt for our enjoyment put off until a much later date. What the economic crisis of 2008 and, it seems, of 2009, compels us to do as Americans and as Georgians is to get real. We must acknowledge in a time of economic decline that services have costs, that government is a tool, not a weapon, and that taxes are a current payment and a future investment in a healthy, vibrant community.
It is political suicide to laud the virtue of taxes. From the inception of this nation, opposition to them has been the clarion cry of revolution, unless we listen closely to history. The rebels in Boston were not protesting the tax on tea – they protested the break between what they were exhorted to pay and the services they received. Taxation without representation. Taxation without realization. The answer was not, as some would have you believe, to eliminate taxes. Instead, it was to demand a closer union between the people and their government – between taxes and their uses.
Georgia has thrived in the Southeast because it has hewn to a set of conservative principles. That's conservative with a small "c". We have grown our state carefully, balanced our budgets thoughtfully and spread the responsibility fairly. No one is exempt from the shared costs of public safety, education and a network of transportation that, while too often crowded, remain the envy of our neighboring states. Instead of asking any single group to shoulder an undue burden, we have wisely spread the cost of advancement across all of our citizens. Income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes are low, both in real terms and when compared to other states. When states without one tax or the other are held up as exemplars, the question should always be – how high are the other taxes? Does the absence of an income tax result in sky-rocketing sales taxes? Do unduly high property taxes hide income tax evasion by the wealthy? In Georgia, the answer to who contributes has traditionally been a reflection of our state motto of "wisdom, justice and moderation": Our taxes are wisely low, justly spread across economic classes and moderate for each payer.
In recent years, however, we have become swept up in a frenzy of doubt about our 200-year history of smart, thoughtful growth. We have ignored the singular success of Georgia in stretching every dollar and looked instead to national screeds against taxation that owe little to economic reality. In the name of a good sound bite, we have strangled our schools and robbed citizens of local control. From a temporary perch in Atlanta, legislators have stolen the birthright of all Georgians to succeed through deliberate, careful action – the hallmark of true conservation. We have promised salvation through slashing government programs. The result has been a lowering of standards and rising marks on the worst rankings: infant mortality, working-family poverty, low academic achievement and traffic congestion. In the name of "tax relief"Ā¯ we have set ourselves on a path towards undoing the progress that put Georgia ahead of other regional states. More and more, North Carolina and Tennessee are receiving the plaudits that once belonged to the innovators of Georgia.
Taxes are not fun. But they are necessary. Every penny represents a payment for a healthy, well-educated work force able to get to good jobs on time, without fear of rampant crime or unsafe drinking water. And tax reform is needed. We must fix a broken assessment process that treats a McMansion and a modest 30-year old bungalow the same. The power to fairly contest appraisals should be in the hands of the homeowner and not the tax assessor. We need to collect the almost $1.5 billion in estimated sales taxes that we pay every day. Due to understaffing and self-reporting, our sales taxes never make it to the local governments they are intended to support. We have to improve our tax incentives for businesses to ensure that they are usable by manufacturers and entrepreneurs bringing jobs to Georgians.
Georgia deserves REAL tax relief – Reasonable, Equitable, Accountable and Low. In the coming weeks, I, along with several of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, will introduce bills designed to achieve REAL tax relief. I urge Georgians to pay attention and to demand action by the General Assembly. We have less than 30 days left to do what is right for Georgians. We have to get real – and now is the time to begin.
State Rep. Stacey Abrams of Atlanta is a Democrat. [full bio]
Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. Kris Jensen, one member of the Georgia Online News Service team covering the General Assembly, has two stories about sin today. More precisely, one of the stories is about particularly vile sin – child prostitution – while the other concerns the more venial transgression of Sunday liquor sales.
About three years ago, I learned that Atlanta was considered one of the child prostitution capitals of the world, and I've written about it several times since. Jensen's report looks into State Sen. Renee Unterman's effort to combat child exploitation.
On the Sunday liquor sales – opposing letting the beer flow is that noted apostle, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine. Now, would anyone believe he'd grandstand the issue in his campaign for gubner? Nah, of course not.
We also have two Soapbox features today. On the Right is Randy Evans, who says of the peanut crisis: "Georgia's leaders will either be George Bush after Katrina, or true leaders focused on helping Georgia get out of this mess."
And, on the Left, State Rep. Stacey Abrams tells Georgia to get real about taxes: "Every penny represents a payment for a healthy, well-educated work force able to get to good jobs on time, without fear of rampant crime or unsafe drinking water."
As always, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call us at 800-891-3459.