While much of the current shrink-government and stop-taxing movement is caused by the lingering languor of the overall economy, there’s almost an entertaining aspect to the blame game. Individuals fault the local, state and federal governments. The locals wag accusing fingers at the state and federal levels. The state says everything horrible comes out of Washington. And the federal government is left with ... what? ... pointing to the sad and dangerous state of global affairs?
And, of course, it is always the other guy who is supposed to clean up his act to make all the ouchies better because none the budgetary cuts and bruises were caused by those complaining having fallen on their governing faces. It has begun to look like a finger-pointing merry-go-round upon which nobody ever even reaches to the gold ring.
Nonetheless, at the lowest and least-powerful levels of authority (taxpayers and local jurisdictions) there is more validity to the complaining than elsewhere. Communing with local legislators (well, at least the half who were present), city officials made it plain that much more doing of supposed good deeds by the General Assembly and really bad things would no longer be possible to avoid on the homefront.
It is indeed worth a smile to hear that City Commissioner Kim Canada, himself smiling, told legislators: “Please be careful next year. We can’t afford any more help.”
AT THE STATE level, for years now, most budget fixes have involved rolling the responsibilities for keeping services sputtering along down to the local level — all the while often telling those same jurisdictions to do more of that, start doing this, without offering any funding to help. Add in what has been done to the public school systems, where the damage is more visible, and local government has a better case for howling than most voters who feel aggrieved.
This shifting of burden, done basically to let the state position itself for solvency without much thought to whether local entities might go broke in the process, occurs in many, many ways. Coming down the pike are the state elimination of the “birthday tax” (ad valorem levy) on cars, which the locals primarily get, and replacing this with as big a bite (or larger) by way of huge title fees, which the state will mostly control. That’s going to be slowly phased in but at last tally the city/county and their school systems share roughly $6.5 million a year from that revenue stream.
And removing the energy tax for manufacturing, but leaving an option for cities/counties to keep their share and looking like they hate and don’t want industry if they do, is the old rolling of the pea game. City Manager John Bennett reported that tax involves $560,000 a year from Georgia Power clients alone. Then there’s natural gas and other energy sources. And then there is the county, where manufacturing is hardly unknown.
What might thus have to be “made up” unless the local option is taken? Another couple of million dollars to somehow be extracted from the occupants of all the Greater Rome residences that won’t be exempt from the energy tax?
“WE HAVE no way to make that up elsewhere,” said Commissioner Buzz Wachsteter — although that avoids the unspeakable. Of course it can be made up ... by raising the millage rate on property of which an estimated 70 percent comes from the business sector. Say, doesn’t that not only hurt everybody but also put a real dent in those energy-tax savings for factory owners?
It’s also interesting to consider that this energy-tax forgiveness causes no problems at all for the many state communities that deliberately zone to keep manufacturers out (no tire plants inside upscale Atlanta bedroom cities) or have few to none at all. Greater Rome faces a big hit on this because it has long been successful and desirable as a place to make things. Those areas that for lack of workforce or transportation are avoided by manufacturers — and will still be with or without an energy tax — don’t get hurt at the local government level at all.
And that doesn’t even mention (although the commissioners did) such as the special fees the legislature has imposed with the pledge they will pay for teen-driver education, solid waste management, public-safety training but that the state now instead diverts to its “general fund” to actually pay for whatever the politics of the moment demands?
If, on a local SPLOST, promises were similarly broken and the money collected not used for the projects listed know what would happen to the elected officials involved? Far worse than just getting voted out of office.
THERE IS nothing wrong with the state cutting taxes, or picking priorities, but not in the flimflam method now largely being used. At minimum, if local jurisdictions are going to be asked to roll with such punches and lifting of monies from their wallets, then they should be given far more flexibility to make choices themselves — and take heat from community electorates for their decisions instead of being roasted for the choices of legislators and governors.
In fact, that is the very same argument that states are now routinely heard to use (with Georgia being very loud about it) regarding federal revenues for Medicaid and highways supposedly flowing back in this direction. Georgia wants to use those the way it wants, not the way Washington does. OK, then should not Rome be allowed to use its taxation resources in the same way? Shouldn’t it have more flexibility, more options on how to come up with and allocate such funds?
Or, if a “quick fix” is desired while allowing the state to keep the current machinations of money it has already made, here is an easy one: The state income tax is 6 percent. Maybe the state should give 2 percent of that to cities and counties to use for the services most valuable to them. Or maybe 3 percent. Or 2 for the state, 2 for the cities/counties, 2 for the public schools. Of course, that would force the state to find cuts in its own budget but, upon reflection while refilling our glass of sweet tea, isn’t that one of the moods of the moment to encourage as well?
Would the above formula work?
Who knows ... after all, has anyone heard a state politician propose such a thing much less run the numbers on it or something similar?
MAYBE WHAT local officials, who have done much better than their state counterparts in rolling with the economic punches thus far, meant to say is this:
If the state wants local governments/schools to take on more of the responsibilities and burdens of keeping society running smoothly then it should give them the tools — and taxing options — to do so. And then get out of their way.
Hey, this is what Georgia and others say they want Washington to do at the state level, isn’t it?