State lawmakers and other civic-minded people who work to improve the lives of Georgia families have no shortage of important causes worthy of their attention:
• Fully funding public schools and providing affordable access to colleges and universities.
• Ensuring families get decent medical care by closing Georgia’s health-insurance coverage gap.
• Promoting good-paying jobs and adequate housing.
• Protecting safety-net programs for the vulnerable or unemployed.
The list goes on. But as that work continues, Georgia leaders can add a platform that supports their arsenal of ideas: targeted tax reform.
The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute has released “A Tax Blueprint to Strengthen Georgia.” The report provides a concise and specific set of steps state lawmakers can take to provide a targeted tax cut to working Georgia families, while also protecting the state’s ability to pay for its needs. If lawmakers adopt the plan, the lives of Georgians stand to improve in several ways. The plan:
• Provides a bottom-up tax cut to Georgia families. Most of the bottom 60 percent of Georgia households, or those with incomes less than $56,000 a year, get a sizable average tax cut under the plan. The next 20 percent of households with incomes from $56,000 to $94,000 pay about the same amount. The wealthiest fifth of Georgians contribute a bit more in order to keep the plan revenue-neutral, though increases are modest for most families below about $200,000 of annual income.
• Helps more Georgians reach the middle class and remain there. Many Georgia workers and families still struggle to get ahead in today’s economy, and the effect of this tax blueprint is to give them a hand up. A single Georgia mother with one child and working full-time at the minimum wage gets a tax cut of about $500 under the proposed reforms. A married family of three making about $38,000 a year receives an estimated tax cut of nearly $700.
• Protects Georgia education and other quality-of-life services from harmful funding cuts. The most-prominent tax-reform proposals to date threaten serious harm to the state’s ability to pay for key needs, such as health care, public safety and economic development. House Bill 445, filed in early 2015 and scheduled for possible debate in the legislative session that starts in January, could cost the state treasury an average of about $800 million a year if passed in its original form, according to state experts. That’s about twice as much as Georgia spends a year on its entire Technical College System. GBPI’s tax blueprint is revenue-neutral.
Any Georgian with an interest in what goes on at the state Capitol is surely aware taxes are among lawmakers’ favorite topics. In almost countless town halls and newsletters, legislators point to transforming the state’s tax system as a vital tool to strengthen Georgia’s future prospects. They identify the right mechanism, but proposals to date miss the mark.
The idea dominating the conversation so far is a drastic shift from income taxes to make Georgia more reliant on sales taxes, a misguided strategy that threatens serious harm. GBPI’s blueprint provides a better path designed to bolster working Georgia families, broaden economic prosperity and keep the state on firm financial footing for the future.