The smudge of an attempted tax increase on the Georgia Republican brand

If you’re a Georgia Republican with ambitions in 2010, little has been more puzzling than the decision by the Gwinnett County Commission to propose a 25 percent property tax increase.

The situation came to a head late last week, after county residents and well-positioned GOP leaders alike threatened to use recall petitions to toss out all five — all Republican — commissioners.

“They will not last the end of the year,” state Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) warned last Wednesday.

Less than 24 hours later, Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charles Bannister postponed a vote on the tax increase, which had been scheduled this week. Even so, anti-tax organizers plan to go through with tonight’s protest at a local park.

In announcing his return to the drawing board, Bannister said much of the opposition was “generated by misinformation.” Critics of the tax increase, who include Suwanee Mayor Dave Williams, argue they’ve had to pry out details by peppering the county with requests sanctioned by the state’s Open Records Act.

Regardless, even as it was abandoned, Bannister’s strategy for bridging a budget gap provided a jarring counterpoint to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s brutal announcement — made the same day — that state spending in June would be slashed by 25 percent.

One of those working behind the scenes, urging Bannister to come to terms with angry Gwinnett voters, was John Oxendine, a Republican candidate to succeed Perdue.

Oxendine was justly concerned. Bannister, in his fifth year as commission chairman, is a friend and ally. But Gwinnett serves as Oxendine’s geographic base and could be essential to his survival in a six-person primary next year.

So the state insurance commissioner will carry a mixed message to Monday’s “tea party” in Suwanee.

Kudos should be given to residents who spoke up against the tax increase, Oxendine spokesman Jeff Breedlove said. But credit should also be given to the commissioners who backed down.

“At this point, people ought to have the respect to remember to say ‘thank you’ to their commissioners for listening,” Breedlove said.

Oxendine isn’t the only one who should be wondering why a county with a longtime reputation for efficiency has run into a series of eyebrow-raising setbacks.

In addition to the tax furor, a county-funded, minor-league Braves stadium has soared far beyond its original budget. A plan to consolidate garbage collection has disintegrated into lawsuits and confusion.

Nuts-and-bolts types worry that unrest over this latest episode could impact future sales tax referendums. A penny tax for Gwinnett schools expires in 2012.

The anxieties of Republican political strategists are more immediate. When the Gwinnett brand suffers, so does the Georgia GOP.

There is, of course, the simple embarrassment created by the fact that Republicans, a party newly dedicated to fiscal conservatism, hold every county office that Gwinnett has to offer. At one of two hearings on the tax increase, state Rep. Pedro Marin, a Democrat from Duluth, was one of the few public officials to speak against it.

But there is electoral math involved, too. As a cache of Republican votes for statewide candidates, Gwinnett remains second only to Cobb County.

It is true that, as in Cobb, Gwinnett’s Republican standing is in decline. The county is slowly turning Democratic as a more diverse population spreads beyond I-285. In the 2000 general election, more than one in 10 Georgia votes for George W. Bush came from Gwinnett. In 2008, the county was the source of only one in 14 votes for John McCain.

But Gwinnett will retain its Republican clout for several more election cycles.
And in a November 2010 governor’s race that could come down to a few percentage points, much will depend on the county GOP’s ability to churn out an enthusiastic base.

Chris Huttman, a Democratic numbers cruncher, noted that a voter disturbed by the actions of the Gwinnett County Commission might be less likely to believe horror stories about free-spending Democrats — or might vote Libertarian, or might stay home.

Balfour, the Republican from Snellville, agrees.

“Because everyone gets lumped together. It’s a pox on all your houses, normal people would say,” Balfour said. “The national Republican Party is starting to understand what they’re problem has been. I guess Gwinnett County just hasn’t figured that out.”

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10 comments Add your comment

BIO

May 31st, 2009
4:24 pm

How would Ox have any idea about how to cut taxes. His only claim to fame as a 16 year big government bureaucrat is to keeps his office open until 7:00.

Georgia doesn’t need a RINO who’s on the take. According the AJC Ox has gone to the Blago school of management. He’s dumber than an Ox.

Don't worry

May 31st, 2009
6:59 pm

Racism will see the Republicans through. It always has in the past.http://img.coxnewsweb.com/C/06/98/03/image_7503986.gif

Kevin M Bailey

May 31st, 2009
7:03 pm

I think Ox has a little more of idea how to cut taxes, he came out against Sonny and crew over the past couple of years to stop increases for auto and homeowner insurance.

Debbie

May 31st, 2009
7:37 pm

According to this article in the Gwinnett Daily Post, the commissioners have NOT backed down from a milleage rate increase. Chairman Bannister only postponed the vote. This article shows they are still considering a milleage rate increase, althought an increase amount is not mentioned.

http://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/main.asp?SectionID=6&SubSectionID=84&ArticleID=60312

LAWRENCEVILLE – Gwinnett’s chairman said Thursday he would table the talk of tax increases while his staff investigates deep cuts to county services.

At a press conference, Charles Bannister said residents could still face a tax increase because of short revenues in a slow economy, but he said he would table Tuesday’s vote on a proposed 25-30 percent increase in the millage rate.

“We … heard from our citizens about the genuine hardship this increase may cause for some of the citizens of Gwinnett County,” Bannister said, referring to public hearings where residents stuffed the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center earlier this week.

After already trimming the budget by $40 million, Bannister said county staff will pore over expenses, and cuts could be drastic, impacting courts, parks, libraries and personnel costs.

Commissioners are still scheduled to hear from the public at a third required public hearing at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, despite Bannister’s promise to put off the vote expected for later that day.

A timeline for the budget cuts and setting the millage rate has not been determined, although property tax bills are typically mailed in mid-July.

Bannister said the cuts could be brutal, as he faces the biggest budget gap ever after 34 years in public service.

“Any additional cuts we make will have significant visible and tangible impacts on county services,” he said. “You know when you cut a service, somebody will be hurt, and I choose to cut public safety last.”

A tax increase isn’t off the table, though, he said.

Crooked Pol

June 1st, 2009
8:42 am

Now this insurance hustler would never attempt to pay off his old friend Oxendine would he? Of course not, this is just a public service for we poor folks who pay high premiums,right? Ole Oxendine would never jump in front of a camera at a fire for publicity purposes would he? Of course not!!!!

“The businessman whose companies funneled $120,000 to Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine’s campaign for governor has chaired a powerful behind-the-scenes insurance board for the past decade — after being appointed and repeatedly reinstated to the post by Oxendine.

Delos “Dee” Yancey III, CEO of State Mutual Insurance Co. and its subsidiary, Admiral Life Insurance Co. of America, has headed the state-mandated Georgia Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Association since being appointed for his first three-year term in 1999. Before that, Yancey’s father, Delos Yancey Jr., headed the group.”

Mike

June 1st, 2009
2:54 pm

Please send a letter to my tenants in Gwinnett County explaining why their rent will go up over 100 dollars a month after this is done.
Thanks!!

JD

June 1st, 2009
3:44 pm

Gwinnett county epitomizes the inevitable conclusion of GOP fiscal policy.

Taxes can only be cut so much. Just wait, the State government will have to raise taxes too. We have seen an ebb-and-flow nationally over the past 60 years…GA may go through it eventually. The GOP has this habit of cutting taxes to the point that the government can not provide its service of justice, defense, education, etc. The democrats are stuck, typically, having to raise taxes back to optimal levels.

I really don’t care about the tax hike. If the people of Gwinnett are going to complain…then lay off paramedics, firefights, policemen and close a school or two. We will see how much they are willing to allow taxes to rise after the property values fall even further.

Scott

June 2nd, 2009
10:23 am

They wouldn’t have to raise taxes if Gwinnett County had been smart during the past decade. Instead of giving our county away to illegal immigration and waste they could have sent Gwinnett into this century as a leading place to live. Instead the county is only going down down down as crime goes up up up.
And before someone uses the easy response of racism to this post let me remind you that illegal immigration has made Gwinnett one of the top hubs for drugs in the U.S. Another reason our property values will stall or decline and good people will continue to leave.
They gave Gwinnett away.

Debbie

June 2nd, 2009
5:10 pm

We the People won another one!! The Gwinnett Commissioners voted down the milleage rate hike that was on the table.

[...] Political blogger Jim Galloway wrote over the weekend that Insurance Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate John Oxendine was one of the people who [...]