When it comes to property taxes, the Atlanta race for mayor is a concern limited to the several hundred thousand people who call themselves residents.
Mention “commuter tax,” and suddenly your listening audience expands to several million.
Six mayoral candidates participated in an hourlong debate Sunday night, broadcast on GPTV and sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club.
If you listened carefully, you know there’s a good chance that driving into Atlanta might cost extra after this election.
The question is who — or what — will be taxed.
First up on the topic was Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who appeared to endorse an indirect commuter tax filtered through the state:
“We already subject our commuters to a tremendous amount of traffic to come into our city. So what I propose is a regional equalization plan so that any city in the state of Georgia that has a net inflow of citizens throughout the state coming in for employment, would have a different level of funding from the state.
“I think that would work well for the city of Atlanta. It would also work well for other municipalities throughout the region as well as throughout the state.”
Norwood didn’t explain how a mayor might persuade the state to voluntarily funnel more money to Atlanta.
Atlanta attorney Jesse Spikes bought into Norwood’s equalization argument, but gave priority to a parking tax:
“In 2002 the council appointed a committee to study a surcharge on parking, and it recommended a 10 percent surcharge. I would support that.
“But what we could also do to equalize the charges is to seek more funding from the state. Atlanta receives 1 percent of its funding from the state. Around the country, cities receive about 15 percent.”
Former state senator Kasim Reed is against a commuter tax, and this morning a spokesman said that his opposition includes a tax on parking:
“I would not support a commuter tax because I believe at the end of the day it would put jobs in the city of Atlanta at risk, and force new job locations to the exterior of the city. The city of Philadelphia used that model and it saw exactly that.
“But more important, it’s vital that we recognize that the biggest employer in the city of Atlanta proper is the state of Georgia. When we get into a situation where we’re taxing commuters and discussing a commuter tax, I believe the state will begin to move assets outside the city of Atlanta.”
As far as the parking tax goes, spokesman Reese McCranie quoted his candidate as saying, “The juice wouldn’t be worth the squeeze.”
Candidate Kyle Keyser expressed the only outright support for a commuter tax:
“….But I would say let it not release the responsibility of our city leaders to get our own house in order…to get ourselves leaner and more effective.”
Peter Brownlowe, the former Atlanta police officer, simply said he would not support any new taxes.
Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders had the final word on the matter. She opposes a tax on commuters, but – like Spikes – thinks their vehicles may be fair game:
“Obviously commuter taxes have worked in New York and New Jersey up in the Northeast. They have not worked in Philadelphia.
“All of the businesses simply moved out of the urban core. So the answer is no, I would not support it. It is my understanding that parking lot owners do in fact support parking taxes for cars, which would hopefully drive more ridership on MARTA. So I would be in favor of looking at a parking tax, not a commuter tax.”
This morning’s last word on the mayoral race comes from Walter Jones of the Morris News Service, who has this measure of our fascination with the leadership of the Big City:
Do a simple Google search of the current mayor, Shirley Franklin, and Gov. Sonny Perdue, both nearing the end of their second terms. Perdue brings up 144,000 items and 18,700 images while Franklin’s dwarfs his with 222,000 mentions on the Web and 58,400 images.
While you ponder that, consider these items found while perusing this morning’s ajc.com:
Georgia officialdom ignores ban on gift-giving. Ethics debate splits State Election Board.
More than 3,000 parents and children scramble for flu shots in Cobb County. Atlanta mayoral race goes down to the wire. Cameras may police Atlanta’s city streets. Atlanta, the engine for growth, has run out of fuel. Gwinnett County crime reports go online. SCLC set for change at top.
Beverly Scott says a MARTA-state merger proposal deserves debate. Cynthia Tucker says keeping consumers safe is one thing that government does right. Kyle Wingfield thinks power needs to have limits.
And from beyond:
WP: Ideology trumps party for Palin. Chicago Sun-Times: The grass ceiling: Obama finally golfs with a woman. LAT: Fox News relishes Obama administration scorn.
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