Posts Tagged ‘Sales Taxes’

Has the Time Come to End the Columbus Property Tax Freeze?

January 12, 2011


Attorney, lobbyist, and former Columbus state legislator Pete Robinson ran the end-the-property-tax- freeze  flag up the political flagpole again. Now, we’ll get to see how many Columbus citizens salute it this time.  Twice before freeze-enders got shot down in referendums, and the freeze was upheld in a state supreme court ruling.

Times are different now, Robinson told Columbus Rotarians today. A lot of people who work and use Columbus public services don’t own property in Columbus any more.  Columbus basically depends on property taxes to pay for government services, and since counties that don’t have tax freezes, such as Harris in Georgia, and Russell is Alabama, are more attractive to people who buy new homes, the tax digest in Columbus simply isn’t going to be enough to finance the Columbus-Muscogee County government.

In order to tax those people who live in other counties, but work in Columbus and use Columbus infrastructure, there has to be a change. One is is to depend more on sales taxes – he called it “consumption” taxes – and another is to institute a Columbus income tax. And ending the freeze will also encoruage more people to buy homes in Columbus.

Sales taxes, the most regressive because lower-income people pay a higher percentage of their income than upper-income people, are already high enough in my book.  I’d lean more toward an income tax. Also, I have never thought the property tax freeze was a good idea.  When a new homeowner moves in and has to pay $2,000 in property taxes and his  or her neighbor, who has been living for 20 years in the house next door that is of the same value, pays $100, you know something is wrong.

I asked Robinson if he really thought there was a chance in hell the tax freeze would end. “It has to!” he said emphatically.

I’m sure our new mayor Teresa Tomlinson will be very interested in seeing how Columbus citizens react to Robinson’s position.

Sen. Seth Harp on 7 Crucial Days for Georgia

April 9, 2010

After publishing remarks from Columbus Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre’s online report about the upcoming crucial seven last days in this year’s Georgia legislative session in which two state budgets must be adopted, I asked Columbus Republican State Sen. Seth Harp, who is giving up his seat to run for Insurance Commissioner, for his perspective on this year’s enormous  challenge to state lawmakers. 

Sen. Seth Harp, Republican, Dist. 29. Georgia Senate


Since the Legislature adopted the budget for the State in 2008 for the 2009 fiscal year, we have seen a huge loss of tax revenue for the state.  Our projected revenue for 2009 was $21.4 Billion.  The actual revenue that the State collected for 2009 is about $16 Billion.  The revenue amount in 2010 fiscal year has continued to shrink to the level of $15 Billion.  Simply put, our funds have shrunk by almost one-third (1/3).  Being the state’s first priority, education is 67% of the total state budget with salaries being 80% of those expenditures.  K-12 and Higher Education have received the smallest cuts.  

For the first time in over 16 months, we saw a slight 1% increase in revenue funds in March 2010.  We are a very long way from recovery. 

We are trying to craft legislation that will generate some relief and prevent making the cuts that will have to occur if we don’t have additional revenue funds. 

The first is the hospital bed fee, that will generate funds to help compensate the doctors and hospitals that treat the indigent.  The fee will generate $128 million, which will go to the Indigent Care Fund.  That amount, which will be matched by Federal Funds at a ratio of 3 to 1, will go directly to indigent care providers and maintain rural healthcare. 

The second is fee increases for State services, such as filing fees for filing court cases.  

These state services fee and the hospital bed fee revenue funds will allow a balanced budget to pass. If these bills don’t pass, then the deep across the board cuts that have received so much attention will have to occur.  

Our Constitution requires a balanced budget.  The “pie in the sky” idea that we will collect $1 billion from sales taxes is just that.  Most of the offenders are no longer in business and have no assets.  The idea that we will solve the shortfall by collecting unpaid sales taxes in 3 months is just dreaming.  The effort to collect these taxes is going on as we speak. 

Instead of playing politics, we MUST work to come up with ideas that allow our State to educate our children, protect our citizens from criminals and grow jobs for Georgians. 

This requires bipartisan support, not pitting one side against the other for political gain for the upcoming elections.

A Moment to Reflect on the Education SPLOST Victory

September 16, 2009

We’ll get back to our Media in Transition series shortly, but first, a comment on the education SPLOST that Columbus voters approved. 

First of all, hats off to Columbus attorney Frank Myers who worked tirelessly to get the SPLOST passed. He didn’t front the campaign, but he was very busy behind the scenes doing things like getting TV commercials made. 

The real hero, though, is Superintendent Susan Andrews.  She put her reputation on the line to get voters to approve the penny tax for Columbus’ schools. Obviously, she got impressive support.  Now she has to deliver.  She can’t do it alone, though. She needs a lot of help, the kind she got yesterday, and not just from the public, but,  from the school board, too. They also have to deliver.

Mayor Wetherington Will Vote for School SPLOST

July 29, 2009


 Rotarian Dr. Philip Schley, Chair of the Muscogee County School District Board of Education,  stood up during the question and answer session following Mayor Jim Wetherington’s talk to Columbus Rotarians and asked how the mayor was going to vote on the school SPLOST.  

“Richard [Bishop of Uptown Columbus]  asked me about that this morning, and I told him I hadn’t decided, yet.  But,  I am going to vote yes.”  He explained that was slow to respond because Columbus voters approved of his SPLOST for public safety and street improvements, and he didn’t want to become known as the mayor who is an expert on taxes.  “But, I am going to vote yes.  BRAC is going to mean we need more classrooms.  I am  not, however, going to campaign for it.” 

Jim Wetherington, Mayor, Columbus, GA, J. Robert Jones, Presdient, Rotary Club of Columbus

Jim Wetherington, Mayor, Columbus, GA, J. Robert Jones, President, Rotary Club of Columbus

The mayor gave a “state of the city” speech to members of the Rotary Club of Columbus in which he reported that his goal of 100 new police officers has almost been reached.  He said Columbus is fairing better than a lot of cities during these economically tough times,  that some are on the brink of bankruptcy,  but things are looking good for Columbus, with NCR bringing 800 new jobs to the city when its atomatic teller machine factory opens,  and all of the new jobs that the buildup at Fort Benning will bring.  He also mentioned that two new fire stations are being constructed,  and two police precincts will be opened, one at the new CB&T branch on Buena Vista Road, and another one in North Columbus in the vicinity of Veterans Parkway and Williams Road.

I asked him about all of the talk about his not running for reelection. He smiled and said, “Oh, I don’t know…age is catching up to me.”

Yes to School SPLOST, but with Reservations

July 28, 2009

 I’ll probably vote for the SPLOST for Muscogee County School District schools, but not because I am happy with the way things are going in our schools. 

The money is basically going for building new schools and upgrading old ones.  With 4,000 new students expected to put a strain on the system when BRAC is fully deployed,  yes,  it appears, we are going to need more classrooms. 

However, it also appears we are not efficiently using the ones we already have.  For instance, I am told that there are now 900 students attending Jordan High.  At one time,  Jordan had the largest student body of any high school in Georgia, more than 2,300 students.  (It also had the only state STAR student ever produced by a MCSD school. Full disclosure: I graduated from Jordan in 1948. No, I was not that STAR student by a long shot.  Alexander Hunter won that honor in 1965.)   All of that unused space and portable classrooms are having to be added at Hardaway High because of  the students from underachieving schools being transferred there.  The No Child Left Behind federal law made this possible.

I guess we can’t blame parents for wanting their students to go to a school with a better academic record, but you have to ask,  why are the students at some schools doing so poorly?  The answers are myriad, I suppose. However, one of the main ones is the way school districts are set up, and the effects of magnet schools.   You send all of the kids whose parents are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder to a few schools and all of the more affluent kids to a few other  schools,  just exactly what do you think is going to happen? Well, it’s happened.

Yes, it appears the Muscogee County School District is a mess, but there are high hopes that new Superintendent Susan Andrews is going to turn that around.  SPLOST supporters are pushing that idea. But, she still has to answer to the school board.  I’m told the board is following her lead, but she really hasn’t been in the saddle long enough to know if that is going to hold up.

Meanwhile, I plan to vote for the penny-per-dollar sales tax for the schools.  BRAC simply means we have to have more classrooms.  That can’t be denied.  Still, I would like to see better use of the space we already have, but I realize that would take some major political changes.

“Richard Hyatt’s Columbus,” Sam Rawls, and Me

August 1, 2008

  My name has appeared a few times on Richard Hyatt’s website, Richard Hyatt’s Columbus. One of the posts directed visitors to this site for the story on Dee Armstrong’s advice to her WTVM replacement. Thanks for that, Richard.


  The other one, which was partially about Sam Rawls and me resigning Common Cause Columbus positions, had correct information in it, but the order of events presented could give a wrong impression. Sam Rawls, who had announced CCC was protesting the airing of a TV commercial because it stated the LOST was not a tax increase, resigned as chairman of the CCC Governing Board two weeks after the July 15th LOST referendum. Right after that, the fact that I had resigned as publicity chairman was reported. You could get the idea – though, I feel certain that’s not what Richard intended – that I resigned because the LOST passed. I had resigned long before Sam, and it had nothing to do with the LOST. As you may recall from my Ledger-Enquirer letter, I voted for the LOST.  As Sam said, everybody in CCC was not against the LOST.  I am not even sure that Sam resigned because the LOST passed. That’s not the reason he gave me.


  Now, you may ask, what was the reason he gave me? Sorry, but that was a private conversation, and this old reporter learned long ago that you don’t violate confidences.  For one thing, that is a sure way to get sources to clam up and tell you nothing in the future.  When you are a member of an organization, there is no sense making any pretense about reporting objectively on it. What you say, even if true, is suspect because of the conflicts of interests involved.  When I made my living reporting, I turned down every request to be publicity chair for any organization to which I belonged.  


  As far as Common Cause is concerned, both Sam and I are still members. From what Sam has said in the past, I know that he is a member for the main reasons I am, we beleive in holding power accountable and in transparency in governmental actions.





Georgia Corrections Commissioner Backs LOST

June 26, 2008

  Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington, Georgia’s former Commissioner of Corrections,  picked up  support by the present Commissioner for his Local Option Sales Tax initiative. James E. Donald, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, told Rotary Club of Columbus members that Georgians need to come together to do something about the prison problem in the state, and he believes that Columbus folks need to pitch in by voting for the LOST.





James E. Donald

Commissioner, Georgia Department of Corrections 



  He says his plan to stop putting away non-violent drug abusers, who are filling up the state’s prison system, will take the support of strong local police departments. Mayor Wetherington promises to spend the majority of the LOST money on beefing up the city’s safety department.


  It costs the state about 1.2 billion dollars a year to operate its Corrections Department, he said. And Governor Perdue has cut the department’s budget by 38 million dollars. Commissioner Donald says he takes that cut as an opportunity to be more creative about ways to make the prison system work better.  


  Donald, a retired infantry general, hopes judges will start sentencing drug abusers to rehabilitation programs that require them to report regularly to day reporting centers, one of which is being built for Columbus. They go to the centers to be checked to see that they are not violating their probationary sentences and not returning to their old drug abusing ways.


  Georgia,” he says, “has the second highest rate of incarceration in the nation, second only to Florida.”


  He says just locking people up treats the symptom, but not the root cause of the problem itself. If only the symptom is treated, when the inmates are released back into society they return to their old criminal ways. He wants to lean more on crime prevention, education and rehabilitation.


  And he wants us to support Mayor Wetherington’s LOST. Maybe we will, but I know a lot of people, including a number of Rotarians, who are not for the LOST. Me? Well, I’m torn. We’ll get into that in a future post on this blog. Stay tuned.