I think I have just figured out a way to get the 22 legislative tax evaders out of the General Assembly and onto the streets where they might have to find real work and quit swilling from the public trough. Don't re-elect the miscreants. It worked like a charm two years ago.
Remember Jeanette Jamison, D-Toccoa? She was a veteran legislator who served on the House Ways and Means Committee, the committee that, of all things, writes tax legislation. She hadn't paid her own taxes for eight years and owed the state over $47,000. Her excuse was that she was just too busy doing the "people's business" to remember to file her taxes. Her constituents let her know how they felt about that oversight. She is now ex-Rep. Jamison.
Shortly, you are going to learn the names of all 22 legislators behind on their taxes, thanks to a change in the law. Up to now, the Department of Revenue could not release the names of the legislators because of a state law regarding confidentiality. After consulting with the attorney general's office, the state Senate decided that if they had the power to make that law, they dang well could change it, so the Revenue Department could soon have the authority to release the names.
The next step is up to you. When you get their names, file them away somewhere, and if they represent your district in the General Assembly, toss them out on their bohunkus if they have the audacity to run for re-election in 2010. It's that simple. Ask Jamison.
Under the Senate bill, names of legislators who have failed to pay their taxes would be referred to the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission for investigation. The names would be available to the general public once there is a hearing. The ethics panel could then sanction the lawmakers or even remove them from office and make them join the real world. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives. Rep. Joe Wilkerson, R-Sandy Springs, has indicated that the House will work in concert with the Senate to pass the law.
Before you high-five our politicians for doing what they should have done a long time ago, remember that nothing has been passed into law yet, and if it does pass, we may have a case of foxes guarding the henhouse.
I will have to be convinced that legislators can deal impartially and firmly with their colleagues. Remember, this same commission dismissed a conflict-of-interest complaint against House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, in 2007 that alleged the speaker had an improper relationship with a female lobbyist who was pushing a $300 million pipeline project.
The committee's action - or inaction - earned the speaker the sobriquet "Romeo" Richardson from veteran political columnist Bill Shipp, which has stuck on Richardson like white on rice. In hindsight, Richardson might have preferred censure.
Ironically, there has been a provision in the state constitution since 2002 declaring that any public official or candidate found in default of taxes at any level by a "court of competent jurisdiction" could be removed from office. The state Constitution already gives the legislative bodies the power to discipline their members. Once they can legally identify the slugs, the pieces are in place to get rid of them. The legislature needs to get busy thinning out the bad wood. And if they don't, you can take care of the problem posthaste at the ballot box in 2010.
Finally, kudos to a gentleman named Ted Hall who anchors the evening news for feisty WXIA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta. Hall, a relative newcomer to Atlanta, has made the legislative tax evasion issue at the General Assembly a personal crusade. While other media talk about the weird woman with the artificial octuplets or the latest Elton John sighting, the tenacious Hall and his crew are keelhauling legislators daily until they determine those who have paid taxes and those who haven't.
His actions are a prime example of the positive impact media can have when they quit worrying about their bottom line and worry instead about serving the public interest.
E-mail columnist Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.