Georgia lawmakers want to raise your taxes, and it's one of the best ideas they've had in years.
State Rep. Chuck Sims' bill to restore the tax on groceries won approval last week in the House Ways and Means Committee, and it's supposed to be voted on this week by the full House.
Gov. Zell Miller scored major points with voters in 1996 when he exempted groceries from the state's portion of the sales tax. With the state now trying to fix a $2.6 billion shortfall in the budget, lawmakers are looking under every cushion for extra money. Sims says restoring the grocery tax could bring in an extra $250 million per year.
So hang on a minute. It's a tax increase. Why is that a good thing?
Here's why. Georgia residents would get an income tax credit to offset the sales tax, so much of the revenue would come from visitors to the state.
But guess who else would have to pay? It wasn't mentioned in a recent story on the bill, but former state Rep. Barry Fleming, who now works as legal counsel for House Speaker Glenn Richardson, told me about it during a recent visit.
See, illegal aliens typically don't file state tax returns, so they can't get the rebate. This could also be the case with criminals, such as drug dealers, who don't file state tax returns like the rest of us law-abiding citizens.
It's hard to like a tax increase. But a tax increase aimed at law-breakers? That's about as good as it gets.
We don't trust voters
While state Sen. Eric Johnson this week keeps trying to create on a second, tax-funded school system, he was shot down last week in his effort to crack down on politicians who don't pay their taxes.
Johnson's bill to give tax dollars to parents to help undermine the state's existing public school system is still alive. But the bill to allow investigations of lawmakers with unpaid tax bills is dead.
Naturally, a few people are upset about that. Tax-cheating politicians are angry that Johnson went after them, and tax-paying citizens are amazed that such rules don't already exist.
While I would love to see tax-cheating politicians excluded from office, isn't such legislation really about saving us from ourselves? Aren't we trying to get a law to do what our fellow citizens aren't willing to do?
It's similar to term limits. We don't trust the electorate to toss out politicians who've overstayed their welcome, so we want a law that does it for us - even if it applies to politicians we like.
In this case, we don't trust the electorate to reject politicians who fail to live up to their financial obligations. So we clamor for a law to get rid of them for us.
Why don't we trust the electorate? Probably because we look at many of the politicians they've chosen - including politicians who refuse to pass a law to reject politicians who don't pay their taxes - and see voters often do a crappy job, too.
Overall, it's pretty clear we don't trust voters. That's why we applauded a law that requires voters to show identification when voting, and it's why we cheer a new bill that would require proof of citizenship for those registering for the first time to vote.
We seem to believe if we can just weed out some of the less-trustworthy voters early in the process, then maybe the voter pool will improve.
We already know it couldn't get much worse. Could it?
Try shutting up
President Obama's new attorney general, Erik Holder, a couple of weeks ago said the United States is "a nation of cowards" because we continue to avoid meaningful dialogue on race.
Seriously? Let me ask: How can anyone with a straight face accuse the people of this country of not talking about race? For crying out loud - we can't shut up about it, even though you'd think the election of a half-black, half-white president would seem to have settled at least some of the issue.
Why don't we try knocking off the chatter for a change and see how that works?
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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