Want to find out the names of Georgia lawmakers who don't pay their taxes?
That could happen under a bill that passed last week.
At least theoretically.
If Gov. Sonny Perdue signs Senate Bill 168, the commissioner of the state Department of Revenue would be required to file an annual report with the names of members of the state House or Senate who fail to file a Georgia personal income tax return. So far, so good.
State Sen. Eric Johnson started working on this bill after discovering that some 10 percent of lawmakers had failed to file state income tax returns - in some cases for multiple years. So this bill would tell us who the cheats are, right?
Well, not exactly. Apparently some of the tax cheats got downright hostile with Johnson because of an earlier version of the bill that they said violated their right to due process. The result is a vastly watered-down measure that allows Johnson to say he passed a bill going after tax cheats in the Legislature. In reality, the bill is about as toothless as an octogenarian hockey player.
Here's how it's supposed to work. Under the bill, the revenue commissioner would compile a report listing lawmakers who fail to file state income tax returns. The public isn't allowed to see that report; instead, the lawmakers' names are given to their House or Senate ethics committees. Then, the committee chairman is directed to "undertake an appropriate investigation."
So, that's when we find out who the tax cheats are, right?
Not so fast. The chairman then reports the findings of the "appropriate" investigation - whatever "appropriate" means in this context - to the "presiding officer of his or her chamber," as in the speaker of the House, or the lieutenant governor in the Senate.
Then does the public find out the cheaters' names?
C'mon; what's your big hurry? You'd be able to find out the names only if the speaker or the lieutenant governor then decide to tell us. The law doesn't require them to make the information public; it only allows them to do so. That means we'd certainly hear about tax cheats who get on the bad side of the presiding officers, but what happens if one of their pals skips a tax return? Reckon we'd hear about him or her?
Besides: Before filing his report, the revenue commissioner is required to give the tax cheat at least 30 days' notice that he's going to be reported. (I hope that letter includes the phrase, "And this time we mean it, Mister!)
The potential good news is that once notified that he might - just might - be reported, the cheat could clear up the delinquency before the "appropriate" investigation.
Not that we'd ever hear about any of it, but at least the taxes might get paid.
We didn't get a trophy or a T-shirt, but I'm proud to say Team Paschal - that is, my wife and I - came in a solid third place in last week's Iron Chef Harlem cooking competition at The Acorn Restaurant.
Yeah, I know; there were only three teams taking part in the contest. Don't burst my bubble.
We had a wonderful time competing in the same crowded kitchen with overall winner Renee Dean and People's Choice winner Pat VanHooser, and I have a terrific alibi for why our team lost. (Basically, it involves accusing them of cheating on everything. Plus, the sun got in our eyes.)
Among other things, the event taught me that cooking for a big crowd is hard work - and that compared to a full restaurant, a houseful of relatives at Thanksgiving doesn't remotely qualify as a big crowd.
The next installment of Iron Chef Harlem, modeled after the popular Food Network show Iron Chef America, will be in June with an outdoor format and more room for dining spectators. If you're interested in taking part, call the Acorn restaurant at (706) 556-8222.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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