A penny saved, Ben Franklin said, is a penny earned. But that was before the sales tax.
Tacked onto every dollar of every retail purchase in Columbia County is 7 cents in sales tax. Four of those pennies go to the state. One goes to the local school board's special-purpose, local-option sales tax; one goes to the county's SPLOST. The seventh cent goes to the county's Local Option Sales Tax.
Now, some folks want to add 3 cents statewide that would go to fund Georgia's public school system. A national movement would add 17 cents or more to replace the federal income tax.
That means a $50 pair of shoes would then cost $63.50. Sounds like a lot of people might wind up barefoot.
Actually, the toughest part of any sales tax, especially one as ambitious as the national sales tax, is explaining its effect on the economy. For example, a national sales tax would eliminate other taxes, potentially making that pair of shoes cost far less.
Next year - an election year - is shaping up to bring on just such a debate. So shop the ideas now, while they're still tax-free.
State Rep. Barry Fleming dropped by the other day to chat. Among the issues on his plate for the 2006 session of the Georgia Legislature is House Resolution 58, a plan to replace property taxes for schools with that 3 percent statewide sales tax.
Such a plan would eliminate the ad valorem taxes that in Columbia County account for more than two-thirds of the average property tax bill.
The fairest taxes are those drawn from the broadest population, and the sales tax would spread a far wider net than the property tax. Not only would school funding come directly from renters and others whom we think of as avoiding such taxes, but it also would come from visitors to the state whose children don't even use our schools.
The negatives? The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which sold its soul to liberalism in return for former Gov. Roy Barnes' pledge to spend more of your property tax dollars to expand their pool of potential members, opposes the switch to sales-tax funding. (Wait - that's actually an argument in favor of the sales tax.)
The PAGE folks contend the sales tax is too "volatile" to trust, that years with lean consumer spending would starve the public schools. Fleming says the state could actually fully fund schools today with a 2.2 percent sales tax; the 3 percent figure includes a portion set aside to build up an operating reserve to guard against fluctuations.
And we do have such fluctuations: Three years after the Evans Wal-Mart opened, the growth of Columbia County's sales tax revenue has cooled from an annualized 13 percent in Dec. 2004 to 5.5 percent in May. But each penny will still add up to nearly $14 million in county SPLOST funds this year.
Using the sales tax for schools also would extract revenue from old people, many of whom avoid school taxes through local exemptions, or by living in tax-free zones such as Brandon Wilde. An extra 3 percent sales tax sure would cut into those senior-citizen discounts.
Conversely, by no longer having to pay the school portion of property taxes in any county, fewer elderly people would be forced to sell their homes because of rising taxes. The AARP hasn't weighed in on the issue, but they'll likely favor exempting anyone with wrinkles.
Meanwhile, as state lawmakers prepare to add to the sales tax, and the "fair tax" crowd hopes to raise it nationwide, Columbia County officials are wondering if the SPLOST money they're already getting can be used to build a $100,000 million arena complex.
This is scary stuff, so just remember: When you see a penny on the sidewalk, don't just pass it by; pick it up. You might soon need it.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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