What a difference a month makes. A 10-day month, that is.
Crossover Day at the Legislature, which this year came on March 26, was not a good one for conservatism in Georgia. Lawmakers, particularly Republicans who claim to support limited government, failed to pass some important good-governance measures and succeeded in raising taxes.
But between that 30th day of the session and today’s 40th and final one, they went some ways toward righting the ship.
Oh, the hospital tax lives on. And lawmakers made it worse, not better, by rolling it into a bill to increase the state’s user fees and eliminate its quarter-mill property tax and capital gains taxes on retirees.
Raising some fees is defensible as a move to stop subsidizing certain services by charging users the full cost of providing them. And it’s good that the original bill’s overly broad text was tightened considerably. But lawmakers can’t let fee hikes become a regular money grab.
Ironically, the bigger philosophical drag comes from the tax cuts. That’s because these cuts are not the kind of broad-based incentives that will spur real economic growth.
Most Georgia homeowners will save less than $20 per year. And a whole lot of senior citizens will have to flock to Georgia if the tax cut that they alone received is to give the economy any real boost.
The idea of cutting taxes to spur growth is discredited when it’s misapplied. That bodes ill for the future. And while any tax cut helps shrink government when it comes with, or leads to, spending reductions, we already have billions in those.
I’d have preferred that lawmakers had not tinkered with taxes this year so that the newly created tax-reform council, a good idea, had maximum flexibility to draft meaningful changes.
As I said, though, most of the recent news is positive.
Along with the tax-reform council, legislators put in place some good structures to force thriftiness upon themselves in the future. Three measures in particular will work in tandem to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent as wisely as possible.
First is the sunset review legislation, a mechanism by which lawmakers will review all state boards, commissions, committees, agencies and panels on a rolling basis to make sure they are sticking to their intended missions and not duplicating one another’s work. Some will be abolished or consolidated.
The original bill died in the House on Crossover Day, in part as a slap at the sponsor, Rep. Charlice Byrd, a Woodstock Republican who has a penchant for ruffling her colleagues’ feathers from time to time.
That was a poor reason to reject a sound bill. But Byrd, to her credit, let others take over the lead on the proposal. Other lawmakers, to their credit, decided her deference sufficed, and they passed SB 148 after Byrd’s text was added to it.
Going hand-in-hand with sunset review is Sen. David Shafer’s Zero-Base Budgeting Act (SB 1). The Duluth Republican pushed his bill through the Senate 15 months ago, only to see it gather cobwebs in the House.
They finally dusted it off last week and sent it to the governor. Now, between one-quarter and one-third of state agencies each year will start their budgets from scratch, preventing them from baking previous years’ increases into the cake.
Third is SB 206, from Sen. Greg Goggans (R-Douglas), which requires a review of existing tax exemptions and credits to determine whether they have the intended effect on the economy. Are tax breaks to boost the film industry, for example, actually boosting the film industry?
Some tax breaks may be duds, but others are no doubt working well and might merit expansion. Now we’ll know those things — and, someday, whether 2010’s new exemptions were worthwhile after all.