Tax reform — and in politics, that’s at best a benefit-of-the-doubt term — apparently is dead for this year in Georgia. Before lawmakers take it up again, and they will, they would do well to pay attention to a new report recently disseminated by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (www.gbpi.org), a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic analysis think tank.
GBPI didn’t draft the report; that job was done by another nonpartisan nonprofit, the Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzed state tax policies nationwide. And the gist of its analysis, as summarized by GBPI, comes down to this: “Georgia spends billions of dollars a year in the form of tax credits, exemptions and deductions with little evaluation of whether they benefit Georgians or are effective in achieving their purpose.”
Want true tax “reform”? Start there.
The analysis isn’t all bad. Georgia earns high marks for disclosure, thanks to 2010 legislation under which the state tracks the cost of tax incentives, exemptions, deductions and the like. Georgians have access to the numbers and know, if they’re interested, who pays and who doesn’t pay specific taxes.
What the state does not track — and only the most naïve would doubt there are interests fervently hoping (and furiously lobbying) that it never does — is whether those breaks do for the public interest what we’re told they will.
In other words, the citizens who pick up whatever tax slack the state cuts some special-interest groups don’t know what public interest (if any) is being served as a result. “What’s in it for me?” is a fair question for a taxpayer to ask who’s helping fill the tax void for Delta Airlines or whatever other industry or interest with a well-funded lobby has the ear of the General Assembly.
Some public benefits of tax breaks are self-evident. An obvious case in point: The state offers incentives to Kia, resulting in thousands of new jobs in an area economically devastated by the slow collapse of the textile economy.
The report noted that Georgia’s 2010 disclosure legislation originally included a provision for analyzing the effects of tax breaks once they are enacted into law, but that clause was removed from the final version. ...
It needs to be revived and written into state law before legislators even think about taking up tax policy again.
— Online: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com