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Legislature not worthy of more taxation power

Neely Young writes a solid, straightforward column for Georgia Trend magazine. However, the publisher-writer omitted the last paragraph from his current monthly essay, so I will obligingly fill it in.

The last lines should read: "My column this month is a joke. I just thought we needed a few laughs."

Entitled modestly "The Speaker's Tax Proposal," Neely describes House Speaker Glenn Richardson's plan to become emperor of Georgia. Huey Long and Benito Mussolini would become minor historical figures if Richardson's law passes.

These are my conclusions, not Neely's. He describes the Richardson plan with a straight face. That's why I believe that Neely left out the disclaimer.

Check out these excerpts from Neely's piece written after a lengthy interview with the speaker:

"Richardson wants to change the present constitutional system for collecting taxes in Georgia; this would have the effect of increasing the power of the speaker of the House of Representatives and decreasing the power of the governor and the state Senate in governing our state.

"In short, Richardson believes that taxes should shift away from property to the service sector. He is proposing a retail and services sales tax ...

"Called the '4 PLUS 4 = 0' tax, this would eliminate all property taxes for cities, counties and schools. It would apply a 4 percent sales tax on all services and other dollar-for-dollar exchanges and transactions, including food, legal services, accounting services, health care, pest control, electrical utilities and all other business-to-business transactions.

"The plan would also drop state income taxes from 6 percent to 4 percent. Thus, 4 percent sales tax plus the 4 percent income tax equals zero property taxes, providing the 4 PLUS 4 = 0 a name.

"Under Georgia's present tax system, county commissioners, mayors, city councils and school board members levy property taxes and apply these revenues to local needs. If citizens don't like how they spend this revenue, these local government officials can be voted out of office. Under Richardson's plan, the state of Georgia would eliminate this property tax system and, in exchange, collect all taxes from sales and income. The state would then parcel out tax revenues to each county, city and school system.

"Richardson promises that, at first, all government entities would receive the same amount of revenues as under the present system. Later, the state would 'adjust' sales tax revenues to fit each local system's needs, he says.

"According to some local sources, there would be no sales tax exemptions in the 4 PLUS 4 = 0 plan, not even the present sales tax exemption on food. There would be an exception for nonprofit hospitals and a somewhat different approach for farm-related products such as timber and cotton. Prescription drugs, interstate commerce and products of manufacturing companies would not be included in the plan - benefiting entities like Delta Air Lines or Lockheed Martin.

"Will the 4 PLUS 4 = 0 system eliminate the need for local school boards, county commissions and city councils? ...

"In answer to that question, Richardson says that there will still be a need for these entities, because they will decide how to spend the revenues the state will give to each county, city and school system.

"Businesses already pay 40 percent of all state and local taxes, and there is a concern that an additional 4 percent sales tax will be an additional burden on the business service sector, which makes up 80 percent of the businesses in the state.

"Richardson says that the 4 percent is only a pass-through. People who use the services will still pay the tax, and businesses will only collect the tax. Accountants might disagree, because the tax will show as an expense on a business's general ledger and could reduce profits from a normal company ...

"Richardson plans to ask voters to approve still another important constitutional amendment concerning how to fund transportation on the same ballot as 4 PLUS 4 = 0.

"He wants to simplify the fuel tax amendment by asking voters to approve another constitutional amendment asking for a flat 30-cent tax on motor fuel, to replace the percentage system in place today ... .

"With the state collecting all the tax revenue, this would raise the question of whether we need local mayors and council members, county CEOs or commissioners or school board members.

"For that matter, with so much power residing in the House of Representatives, would we even need a governor or lieutenant governor, except as ceremonial positions?"

Think back for a moment. The 2007 Georgia Legislature turned in a shocking amoral and unethical performance reminiscent of lawless Dodge City before Marshal Matt Dillon arrived. Does anyone seriously believe Georgians are ready to give this crazy and sometimes corrupt gang of lawmakers even more authority over our lives and pocketbooks?

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at shipp1@bellsouth.net.