Archive for March, 2011

Democrats: Overhaul bill would raise income taxes for those who earn $20k to $180k

Updated at 5:07 p.m.: The joint House-Senate committee sent HB 387, a tax overhaul bill that expands the reach of the sales tax and cuts the personal income tax rate, to the House for the first of two all-or-nothing votes.

The House is to vote on the matter Wednesday. The Senate could vote as early as Friday.

Original: My AJC colleague Chris Joyner just scored some Democratic number-crunching on the impact of HB 387, the tax overhaul bill that would trade increased sales taxes for a 25 percent reduction in the personal income tax rate.

Despite that reduction, because deductions would be capped, 1.2 million individuals and couples in Georgia who earn between $20,000 and $180,000 a year – and file itemized deductions — would pay anywhere from $44 to $419 a year more in income taxes, according to figures provided to the party by the Georgia State University Fiscal Research Center.

Income brackets above $180,000 would pay fewer taxes, with $1,000-plus benefits to those earning …

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House Democrats want no part of tax overhaul

House Democrats just announced that they would oppose passage of HB 387, the bill to rework the state’s tax code – swapping an extension of the sales tax to new territory, in exchange for dropping the personal income tax rate from 6 to 4.5 percent.

Rhetoric aside, the announcement carries a strategic importance: House Republicans will be forced to search harder for votes within their own caucus. And if House Democrats, led by Stacey Abrams of Atlanta, don’t go along, it’s highly unlikely that the more irascible Democrats of the Senate will cooperate in that chamber.

From the news release:

“The tax council proposal of HB 387 is a shell game. Republicans have proposed raising taxes on the middle class. They’re quick to say that they’re lowering the income tax rate for most Georgians. What they don’t say is that they’re also eliminating many exemptions that help Georgia families. They are taxing the middle class, but pretending not to,” said Rep. Brian Thomas, chairman of the …

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Your morning jolt: Another anti-abortion bill may be sinking

Over in Iowa, the hot topic is the resurgence of social conservatives in the budding Republican caucus season.

Not so much in Georgia.

Social conservatives here have had a rough few years getting anti-abortion bills through the Legislature. This year, they have been reduced to one: SB 210, sponsored by state Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, would make it easier to sue abortion providers.

Pro-life forces have long suspected that many of the state restrictions imposed on physicians who perform abortions – parental consent for women under 18 among them – are routinely ignored. Enforcement by the state is nearly non-existent, they claim.

SB 210 would allow another avenue for enforcement, through civil suits.

Pro-life forces have been concerned enough with the friction between certain portions of the Legislature and Georgia Right to Life, the state’s preeminent anti-abortion group, that they have asked former state GOP chairman Rusty Paul to help smooth the way for SB 210.

The …

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Whee! Click here to see 68 pages of tax legislation

Think you’ll have trouble sleeping tonight? Here’s your copy of the 68-page, newly minted version of HB 387. It’s a regular bodice-ripper. Taxes fall, taxes rise. The drama of the deductions under a 4.5 percent income tax is riveting.

You’re welcome.

But wait, there’s more. We have here the revenue estimate that goes with the legislation. According to Georgia State University, the combination of tax cuts and new taxes could shrink state income by $7.2 million, or increase it by 10.8 million. Roughly a +/- 10% spread.

The data was released at the 4 p.m. meeting of the joint House-Senate committee that will make the only changes in the measure.

All eyes are on Senate Republicans, who will need to throw off some sign of acceptance before the House-Senate committee will vote on the measure.

Among those at this afternoon’s meeting was Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, who said this:

”We’ve had two caucus meetings lasting a total of five hours on this topic alone. …

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State lawmakers wait for Tax Reform 2.0 to be put in writing

Don’t expect Tax Reform 2.0 legislation to pass out of its joint House-Senate committee this afternoon. At best, we’ll have some of the details in writing.

Here’s the strategic problem now facing the measure:

Because of the way the process was structured last year, once the bill is passed out of the joint committee, the legislature is engrossed and can’t be changed by either chamber. Which means that vote counts on both sides have to be solid before the legislation begins to move.

But we’re discovering some extreme reluctance – especially among Senate Republicans – to commit to anything that hasn’t been set down on paper. We couldn’t find a single GOP senator willing to line up behind the measure, which promises a 25 percent reduction in the personal income tax rate in exchange for sales taxes on satellite TV, casual car sales and – for the first time – a sales tax on the labor in auto repairs.

“How do you whip a vote on something that’s not in writing?” one longtime Senate …

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Prop up state halls of fame with video gambling, says Macon Democrat

You might want to file this under “ideas whose time haven’t yet come.” From the Macon Telegraph:

State Sen. Robert Brown wants to keep the Georgia music and sports halls of fame in Macon, and he is proposing propping up the finances for the two museums by putting video gambling machines inside.

Specific details of his proposal will come out in a Senate bill next week, according to a statement from Brown’s office, but basically, he wants the museums to partner with the Georgia Lottery Corp. to put video gambling machines in little-used spaces of the 43,000-square-foot museums.

A pair of museums, livened up by gambling, should mean “downtown Macon businesses will benefit from the increased people traffic to what will be a unique and fresh entertainment district,” Brown, D-Macon, said in the statement.

It’s too late in the legislative session for passage this year, as Brown admitted, but he pointed out that his idea will be alive for debate next January.

Brown has been talked …

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Your morning jolt: A poll to soothe GOP anxiety about tax overhaul

A joint House-Senate committee today is expected to vote today on a tax overhaul package that will be reduced to writing only a few short hours before it is passed out of committee.

Included will be new sales taxes on satellite TV and cell phone service, on casual sales of automobiles and boats, and on the labor for auto repairs.

In return, lawmakers plan to reduce the state personal income tax from 6 percent to 4.5 percent or so.

House members would vote on the package first, without amendment. Sure to be lying on their desks this morning is a survey conducted by a group called the Communications Flat Tax Coalition, showing that nearly 75 percent of Georgia GOP primary voters (60 percent of all voters) endorse a shift to consumption taxes.

And 73 percent of GOP primary voters (60 percent of all voters) favor a 7 percent tax on cable TV, cell phones, land phones and such.

The essentials: MOE +/- 4 percentage points, automated calling, conducted March 25 — the day after the …

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Lobbyist spending behind the Sunday sales push

Shannon McCaffrey and the Associated Press this weekend have a look at the spending behind the push to allow the Sunday sales of packaged alcohol in Georgia:

The Georgia Food Industry Association — which represents grocery stores — has taken on eight outside lobbyists to supplement its two person in-house staff. Among the heavy-hitters they’ve brought in is Pete Robinson, the well-connected former leader of the state Senate who also served on Gov. Nathan Deal’s transition team. The Publix supermarket chain has hired GeorgiaLink and John “Trip” Martin, a longtime fixture in the state Capitol lobbying corps.

[Jim] Tudor and his convenience stores have spent $1,618 feeding House members in the chamber so far this session, according to lobbying disclosure reports filed with the state. Across the rotunda, the food industry group has shelled out $1,693 to keep food and beverages flowing in the Senate. Those numbers will grow before the 40-day session ends.

Yet Tudor said he believes …

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The end of a Noble Experiment — and tax reform in Georgia

And so the Noble Experiment to rewrite Georgia’s tax code in a politics-free climate has been deflated into a routine bit of score-settling among lobbyists, a tax break for businesses and a slight decrease in the personal income tax rate.

Signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue last year, the effort was modeled after federal legislation used to close U.S. military bases.

The recipe looked so good on paper:

First, take a blue-ribbon panel of business and tax experts, and ask them to come up with a flatter, more reliable form of taxation that encourages growth.

Then demand that the recommendation of this disinterested panel be placed, in its entirety, in a bill offered up to the Legislature. Allow a joint House-Senate committee to make a few absolutely necessary adjustments — and then send the package to both chambers for an up-or-down vote.

Voila! Two-hundred-and-thirty-six lawmakers are handed a politics-free, eat-your-spinach moment to savor and enjoy.

But any cook will tell …

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Jimmy Carter to go first to Cuba, then to North Korea

From the Associated Press:

Former President Jimmy Carter is expected to visit Cuba next week to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro to discuss economic policies and ways to improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

The former president and his wife Rosalynn will arrive in Havana on Monday and stay until Wednesday on a trip under the auspices of his Atlanta-based Carter Center organization, spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said. It is not an official U.S. mission.

Carter’s visit comes days after a Cuban court sentenced U.S. contractor Alan Gross to 15 years in prison for crimes against the state for bringing satellite equipment into the country illegally.

Gross, 61, was arrested in December 2009 while working for Bethesda, Maryland-based Development Alternatives, Inc. on a USAID-backed democracy-building project.

The U.S. government and Gross’s family say he was working to improve Internet access for the island’s Jewish community and should be released immediately. Cuba rejects …

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