Republicans in the Georgia Legislature sure are voting like conservatives this year.
In reality, on the state’s most pressing issues they are making it hard to tell the difference between them and the liberals.
First, there are the education bills, such as extending school vouchers to foster kids and military families, that won’t even get a vote in the Senate. Too many Republicans were afraid in an election year to vote for a modest but important way to spread educational freedom to more Georgians. What, were Democrats going to attack them for helping foster kids?
Then there’s the watering down of an already meager slate of tax cuts focused on creating jobs for the unemployed. A capital gains tax cut in the package won’t kick in until the state has $1 billion in its reserves. But the point of such a policy is to spur growth, not follow it. Even liberals can vote for a good-times tax cut.
Granted, this year’s budget is a bear. Revenues still sag, and squeals rise each time the budget ax drops. But instead of remaking the bureaucracy to fit the bleakness we’ll face for some years to come, lawmakers are trying to work around the edges and get out of town.
Consider the parade of tax and fee hikes designed to raise hundreds of millions of dollars without anyone noticing. It seems legislators think government is small enough but don’t want to tell voters that, or ask everyone to pay more.
So, we get a tax hike on jet fuel and a “voluntary” online sales tax projected to raise $30 million (both in HB 1221), as well as a $10 tax on vehicles to fund trauma centers (SR 277). And the big one: a $169 million tax on hospitals (HB 307).
House leaders say the hospital tax is the least bad solution for Medicaid funding, citing the hospitals’ own preference for the tax over other options.
The hospitals prefer the tax because they will recoup much of what they pay: The state would spend the proceeds on Medicaid, qualifying for federal matching funds that flow back to many of the hospitals.
This indeed will minimize health-spending cuts and the state tax burden on Georgians. But where will these federal dollars come from? Right: us.
The House did well in moving to create a special council to suggest ways to fix the state tax code (HB 1405). But they’re adding complexity to the tax code in the meantime, making the council members’ job harder.
Lawmakers are also boosting state fees by some $100 million (HB 1055). The argument is that the fees are paid by the recipients of a given service but don’t cover the true cost of providing it.
In principle, I agree. A service not paid for by the recipient is subsidized by taxpayers. Here’s the catch: What is the “true cost” of these services? Who determines it and ensures that it’s as low as possible?
In other words, who’s keeping government waste in check? Not Republicans. Otherwise, they’d have passed HB 236.
That bill would mandate regular reviews of nonconstitutional state entities to ensure they work as intended, and merge or shutter those that don’t. It is the necessary complement to fixing the tax code.
HB 236 is the kind of bill that Republicans, the alleged party of small government, are supposed to vote for. Period. Its rejection is a blot on their record.
It doesn’t have to be a permanent blemish. The Senate has passed bills to review individual state agencies, and the House could add the bulk of HB 236 to one of those bills and pass it.
Doing so — and fixing some of the other mistakes listed above — before the 2010 session ends is a must. There’s no point in electing Republicans who vote like liberals.