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Tax reforms, good and bad

Posted: Wednesday, February 03, 2010

We've met Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers before.

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He's the lawmaker who, for several years, pounded away at legislation to close the loopholes allowing dogfighting in Georgia. He finally pushed through laws to make it illegal to attend a dogfight or to train dogs for fighting.

Without those critical components, dogfighting would be a crime only to the person staging the fight - and, naturally, no one busted at a dogfight would admit to being in charge.

Rogers' legislation got the final push it needed for passage with the high-profile conviction of football star Michael Vick. He probably can't count on similar help for passage of his newest effort, but he shouldn't need it.

Rogers this week announced a sweeping bill that he says makes more than 40 changes to the way property taxes are assessed and collected in Georgia.

"This legislation attempts to bring fairness to an unfair system," Rogers says in a press release.

Much of the legislation is driven by the sagging economy's affect on property values. Property owners all over the state have seen the value of their homes and land decline, but in many cases assessments haven't dropped.

Rogers' bill would, among other things, make the process of assessments and appeals more uniform across the state. It would allow more time for those appeals and would require that comparable properties for assessments also include nearby foreclosure and bank sale homes.

The latter point is just plain realism. If you're trying to sell a home down the street from a foreclosure that's on the market for thousands of dollars less, that lower real-time price is going to push down what someone will pay for your home.

If potential buyers take such things into account - and they do - tax assessors also should have to.

There's plenty more in Rogers' bill. It's certainly a year in which such legislation will attract interest, so expect to hear more about it.

Another tax bill filed recently comes from one of the members of our Columbia County legislative delegation. Unlike Rogers' bill, I find no reason to support it.

House bill 0975, is sponsored by state Rep. Lee Anderson, and it is a gift-wrapped package for the Homebuilders Association.

Nothing against the home builders, mind you. Politically we have few disagreements. Their industry is terrifically important to Columbia County, and it has taken a beating as home sales have declined. But this legislation is a giveaway to builders that would come at the expense of homeowners all over the state.

In essence, the bill would exempt a newly built home from taxes until the home is sold, or until a whopping six years after it's built.

Most builders who construct speculative, or "spec," homes, have to sweat it out until the home sells as they pay interest on the construction loan and sales tax on the property. That's the risk every builder knowingly takes, and this bill would remove one of those risks.

Why? What is special about this particular business that it can be rewarded with a tax giveaway?

I'm sure builders will argue that they've manufactured a product that should be exempt from taxes just like Club Car's golf cars or John Deere's tractors. I don't buy it. Besides: those type of manufactured products don't sit on a footprint of land that this bill would also exempt from any county's tax base.

Remember: Every exemption from taxes means there are fewer people pulling the wagon. Counties will reduce services and spending to make up for the difference - not likely - or they will have to increase the burden on property owners not fortunate enough to have a pal in the legislature carving out a special exemption for them.

Rogers has the right idea with tax reform that helps everyone. Too bad our own lawmaker has the wrong idea of cushioning the entrepreneurial risk for one well-connected group at the expense of the rest of us.

A final note: If you see Mrs. Paschal on Thursday, be sure to wish her a happy birthday.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail barry.paschal@newstimesonline.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)



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