Fresh from a weekend of 7 percent off sales, my wallet is feeling pretty light.
College hasn't started yet for my oldest, but my two younger girls did their part to turn their dad's money into school supplies during the Georgia Tax-Free Holiday. The weekend before, we paid the 7 percent sales tax but got better deals on clothing because store discounts were bigger.
The fact is, sales tax holidays are nothing but a gimmick. Everyone instinctively knows that even a wimpy 10 percent off sale leaves more money in the consumer's pocket than suspending the 7 percent sales tax.
But does that mean the tax holidays will go away? Heck, no. It's easy for politicians to give tax-break goodies, but ending them is political suicide.
Still, a tax break in one place, without spending cuts somewhere else, just shifts the tax burden. Right now, for example, Columbia County's younger, middle-class homeowners pay the bulk of property taxes. Wealthy landowners can shelter their property with the timber conservation tax break. Older property owners get senior tax exemptions. Churches and "non-profits" pay no taxes at all, while consuming services (police and fire protection) financed by homeowners.
So when the sales tax holiday comes around, the middle class gets at least a taste of what it's like to visit the tax-free trough.
We may get another sample if state Republicans get their way. Some members of the Georgia House of Representatives started traveling around the state this week, talking about ending the car tax.
Phasing out the tax, which brings in half a billion bucks a year, would be a tremendous gift to the state's vehicle owners.
The problem? Local counties and school systems get a share of that money, and unlike the state, most of them aren't flooded with excess funds. Columbia County's motor vehicles, currently valued at $281 million, bring in a significant chunk of revenue. It's even more important in some smaller counties, where the car tax generates close to 20 percent of the county's total budget.
So, if state officials simply did away with the tax on vehicles, the early version of the plan calls for the state to reimburse the counties for lost revenue.
But raise your hand if you believe the state would keep its end of the bargain. Virginia's former governor visited the House delegation to brag about the popularity of his state ending the car tax, but what he didn't tell them is that Virginia later reneged on the deal to make up the funding for county governments.
Now, I don't know anyone who really likes paying car taxes. But if the state takes away a county's revenue without replacing the money, they're forcing counties to cut their budgets.
The state, however, has so much extra money that it can dole out $100 gift cards to buy votes from teachers. Cutting the car tax wouldn't be much of a risk for bulging state coffers, but it could really hurt counties and school systems.
If the state has so much extra money, let it eliminate the state income tax. Georgia would attract more "halfbacks," the retirees who moved to Florida for the good weather but then were chased halfway back home by the bad weather. Florida has no income tax, and if Georgia followed there would be a lot of happy residents, and more new ones headed our way.
And counties wouldn't be left with lighter wallets.
A little to the north
Carl Miller, of Grovetown, noticed something interesting in Progressive Farmer magazine's list of the best rural communities in the country.
I'd pointed out that Columbia County made the list last year, but didn't appear this year. Miller saw that's not quite accurate: Columbia County actually ranked 11th.
Of course, it's Columbia County, New York.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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