It’s no secret. Watching Republicans under the Gold Dome try to be more creative and clever than Democrats were in planting little tax bomblets throughout government has been frustrating.
It’s been frustrating because each came with a cock-and-bull story about how the imposition of a “fee” or “add-on fine” would achieve a social good. A $200 fine on “superspeeders,” for example, would subsidize a proposed statewide trauma network. The connection is that speed leads to wrecks and wrecks lead to injuries and injuries require trauma centers, so therefore …
Truth is, however, that ladders, guns, knives and broken pavement can fill emergency rooms, too. A $10 “fee” on auto tags, a hidden “fee” on hospitals and health-insurance plans, and a $1 “fee” on telephones — all proposed as a funding source for the estimated $75 million trauma network advocates wanted, are specialty taxes.
The state has 15 trauma-care hospitals. A million Georgians live 50 miles or more from one. If the general good is served by funding a trauma center quickly accessible to all, a straightforward, general purpose tax is the honest and transparent way to go. No games. No deceit.
This session, for the first time since they came to power, Republicans are getting it right.
Though they’ve temporarily abandoned a timetable for ending the corporate income tax, the public declaration by House leaders that elimination is a goal is cause for cheer. Declare a goal consistent with a conservative agenda. Then, by a thousand little steps if necessary, move there.
Learn from the left. Eventually, we’re likely to have taxpayer-provided universal health care. How? A step at a time, drawing the circle of those who are covered by private-sector medical insurance smaller and smaller until, politically, it’s possible to sweep them onto the government rolls.
Score one, then, for Republicans doing something that constructively changes the status quo.
Another reason to cheer is the legislation that passed the Georgia House on Thursday to eliminate the so-called birthday tax on cars and trucks.
An impassioned Larry O’Neal (R-Warner Robins), chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, took the floor last week to praise the proposal to eliminate the sales tax and the annual property-tax levy on vehicles and replace it with a one-time registration fee of 7 percent.
“When we take the ad valorem tax off of our automobiles,” said O’Neal, “I can actually own my own car without the government having the first lien on it.”
Here again is an instance where eminently desirable conservative outcomes are advanced.
As O’Neal noted, the yearly risk that government can come and “take” your car for nonpayment of taxes is eliminated. It backs a potentially threatening government out of our lives. Plus, it doesn’t add on a new tax while employing semantics to deceive.
A third benefit, temporarily useful, is that when it takes effect next January, it will stimulate new-car sales. After paying the 7 percent, up to a maximum of $2,000, the purchaser never again pays the “birthday tax” levied when tags are purchased. The tag fee remains, but not the tax. Georgians will continue paying the ad valorem tax until they register another new or used vehicle.
The change is expected to bring in an additional $496 million in the next fiscal year, to be split between state and local governments. It will also produce at least $150 million in new revenue that can be used for other purposes, including funding a trauma network.
The new money comes not from new taxes, but from bringing the shade-tree used-car sales into the system.
A sales tax on those transactions, rarely paid, will be replaced with a registration fee. Failing to register a car within 30 days brings a $2,500 fine for dealers and a percentage-of-price penalty for individuals.
It’s not a new tax. It’s a more appealing substitute for the law-abiding and is a penalty for evaders. It brings integrity to the tax code. With HB 480, the House gets it right — and moves the tax code in a direction that should be appealing to conservatives.
No games, no gimmicks. No deceit. No clever marketing by those in training to be tax collectors for the welfare state.