Columbia County's Chamber of Commerce members Tuesday will have a front-row seat to hear about a plan for changing the way taxes are collected in Georgia.
If they know what's good for them, and the community in which their businesses are located, they'll listen very closely - and skeptically.
The plan is called GREAT, an acronym for "Georgia's Repeal of Every Ad valorem Tax." Its primary architect, Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson, is expected to talk about the plan at the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Pre-Legislative Breakfast.
The Chamber is hitting another home run by bringing Richardson as the headliner. He follows Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who spoke at the Chamber's Post-Legislative Breakfast in June.
Getting these two top state officials in the same year speaks volumes for Columbia County's chamber, for the the county's influence in the Legislature.
Unfortunately, neither Perdue nor Richardson come bringing good news. Perdue, remember, was greeted with protests because of his vetoes and budget "redirects" that took funding from our community. Augusta's Golf and Gardens have all but dried up and died because of the veto, and Stevens Creek Elementary's highly acclaimed foreign-language program is likewise threatened.
So, what kind of news will Richardson bring? He's expected to continue the sales pitch he's been giving statewide for GREAT. It's an ever-shifting plan that, in essence, would end all property taxes and supposedly make up for the lost funding by eliminating exemptions on sales taxes and by imposing the tax on services.
On the surface, the plan seems to be an easy sale: End property taxes, and pay for government without raising the sales tax. And if voters don't hear any more than that, they would likely vote to approve the constitutional amendment required to make the radical change. Who wouldn't want to get rid of taxes on businesses, homes, land, cars and boats?
The problem? Every reputable group that has studied the plan bluntly says it won't work. Especially pointed in their criticism was Georgia State University - which conducted a study at Perdue's request - and the state Senate's Budget Office, both of which concluded that the plan would create a state budget deficit of up to $6 billion.
It wouldn't be state government taking the hit from such a shortfall, either; it would be local governments, especially school systems.That's because under the GREAT plan, the sales tax would be collected by retailers and service providers, sent to the state, and the remitted to local governments under as-yet-unexplained funding-formula.
That's one of the reasons county commissioners, school board members and local government officials across the state have expressed mounting opposition to the plan. And it's the biggest reason Columbia County business owners and government officials had better pay attention Tuesday when Richardson speaks.
What they hear might not sound so GREAT after all.
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