If this interview with Tommie Williams is any indication, the next legislative session is going to be interesting, very interesting! Not only are they going to have to come up with a Water Plan (in the first 20 days), they are going to make a run at the biggest tax reform (the elimination of the property tax) this State has probably seen since Reconstruction. Add to that transportation (privately built and operated highways, I mean, toll roads and trolleys on Peachtree), reform of the state employees health care (no deductible, pay the second $500 out of your pocket), and it sounds more and more like 40 days and 40 nights.
A correction. In a post from a recent interview with Gordon Rogers (Satilla Riverkeeper), I said that in an earlier interview this summer Tommie had indicated that the legislature had appropriated $20M to developing a water plan of its on. Gordon said he was not aware of such. I straightened this out in this interview. Its $100,000, not $20M.
Tommie obviously has a lot of problems with the Water Plan proposed by the Water Council and my bet is the legislature is not going to let it go into effect. Whether they come up with their own plan (I doubt) or just change the law (so the plan does not go into effect by default), I expect they will do something. The issue is just too important.
Tommie seems to support for the idea of letting private companies finance the costs of building some major roads, in return for which, upon completion, they lease the road from the state in return for the right to collect a toll on the road. According to Tommie, this would allow more of the $1.5 billion highway pie to go to rural and south Georgia. I understand the principle, but the first thought that pops into my mind is the memory of $750 hammers.
If you think this is a novel idea, think again. Ever heard of a turnpike? Pennsylvania chartered the first in 1792. By 1800 there were 69 chartered companies building toll roads. I found a paper comparing the modern efffort at privately built roads with the old one.
I would think very few private businesses can afford to finance road construction. Whoever puts that financing together has got to have some serious cash or credit, not to mention power, and with it will come that much more money and power. I hate to even think about the possibilities for abuse and corruption.
If state government can increase revenues by not spending money to build a road and then increase them again in leasing the road once it is built, is the next step to sell existing roads to private business to bring in even more revenue? Ask Virginia!
As for the elimination of the property tax, this stands a good chance of being the most contentious issue the legislature deals with. While I am all for an overhaul of the way we assess and collect taxes, both on the state and the federal level, I do not understand this focus on property taxes. According to the Tax Foundation, in 2006 Georgia collected $75M in property taxes, 23rd in the nation. This was .4% of the total taxes collected by the State. I assume this figure does not include local property tax collections because, according to the Tax Foundation, state and local tax property tax collections in 2005 was $899 per capita, a rank of 33rd in the nation.
Since most property taxes are collected and used on a local level, many people see this effort to eliminate property taxes as an effort by the state legislature to grab power by controlling the money local governments need. Right now, if you think your property taxes are too high, that is a fairly local issue and you can go to the next meeting of the county commission and gripe your heart out. But, if property taxes are eliminated, instead of talking to a small group of politicians down at the courthouse, you will have to try to pin down the Atlanta bureaucrats and, I can assure you, you will never have the power to get anything changed. And what if your county does something the powers in the state legislature don’t like (such as electing a Democrat), will power be used and abused?
I am somewhat more cynical in viewing the reason behind the elimination of property taxes. I don’t see this as an attempt to be fair. It is essentially an effort to reduce the tax burden of the rich and place it on consumers. The rich get richer and the working man pays more and more of the tax burden. Now if you want to exempt residences of people over 65 who live on a limited income, fine with me.
Real estate, commercial and residential, uses expensive county services (fire, police, water). How on earth do you justify making the family buying bread at Walmart pay for services received by the property owner collecting $10,000 a month in rent at a strip mall? You pay for what you get. You get local services, you pay for local services, you pay your fair share of property taxes, you don’t make families pay for your free ride.
I don’t think this effort will succeed.