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Can we get our money back, Sonny?

Georgia government ranks low on just about every list of providing services to its citizens.

Schools are subpar. Transportation is a nightmare. State law enforcement is underpaid and overworked. Emergency health care is among the nation's worst, and, infant mortality is sky high. Support of the arts and culture is a joke. Prison overcrowding in "chain-gang" Georgia is a national scandal.

But - wages are low, as are taxes. And the bass fishing is pretty good.

So the Peach State continues to progress. On paper, our economy looks robust.

Think how much better it could be if our elected leaders paid a bit more attention to improving the infrastructure.

That is what our governor and Legislature are sworn to do, isn't it - make life better for all Georgians with the available tax monies?

Or if they don't want to spend all the tax money they collect, shouldn't they just send the unused surplus back to us?

Heck, just about all of us could use a few extra bucks. We could pay down those credit cards, buy an iPhone, get Falcons tickets, catch up on the rent and perform untold beneficial deeds.

Last spring, you may remember, House Speaker Glenn Richardson and his legislative pals voted to return to the citizens $142 million in property taxes that the state didn't need.

Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed the rebates. He said we needed to expand the state surplus.

Here we are in July, and the tax receipts for the past fiscal year are in. Guess what? The Legislature could have voted $284 million in rebates - or even $384 million and nothing would have been changed - except you and I would have received back a bit more of our hard-earned cash.

Georgia ended the fiscal year with a breathtaking $600 million cash surplus - unspent monies languishing in depositories around the state, doing nothing but generating more profits for Sonny's best buds in banking.

House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, has suggested Perdue call a special legislative session to divvy up at least some of the surplus for us lowly tax sufferers. Perdue's agreeing to such advice ranks at the top of the fat-chance list.

Georgia is like a homeless man who desperately needs a roof over his head and his bad teeth repaired, even though he has an old mattress stuffed with $100 bills that he says he's saving for "hard times." We just say he's nuts and go about our business.

We have hundreds of millions that could be used to improve our state.

Or we have a record amount of unspent cash that could be returned to the taxpayer. Why are we doing neither?

To be sure, state government needs a modest surplus for a rainy day. But it does not need a sizeable fraction of its total revenue stuffed into mattresses.

One might conclude that Georgia's biggest deficiency may not be in bricks and mortar but in brainpower on Capitol Square. No one in the Gold Dome does much serious thinking about the state's future.

Oops. I take that back. Richardson has dared to embark on a vital campaign to overhaul the state tax code. Someone should have addressed this matter years ago. Our tax system is filled with inequities, special exemptions and extraordinary incentives. It badly needs simplifying.

Richardson ought to be commended for grabbing hold of the tax code and shaking the moths out.

The Speaker hopes to reform revenue collections by abolishing property taxes and replacing them with a hefty, no-exemption, all-encompassing sales tax.

Sounds like a great proposal, right? Wrong. It's a lousy idea. There's so much wrongheadedness in Richardson's plan that it makes one wince. The sales tax is regressive. State government would suddenly be the collector of most taxes and dispenser of most services. Your local mayor and commissioner would be little more than hat-in-hand supplicants traveling regularly to the capital to plea for aid. The sales tax could become so costly that some industries (fuel-consuming Delta Air Lines, for instance) could not afford to keep their headquarters in Georgia.

So let's give Glenn an E for effort and send him back to the drawing board in the Statehouse.

Before he gets down to work on revisions with his trickle-down advisers, however, we would appreciate it if the speaker would stop by the Capitol executive suite and drop off this little note to the governor: "Dear Sonny, Please give us our money back."

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