Tax Reform in Georgia: Codified Elitism?

Last week, the Georgia House Ways and Means Committee hosted a meeting in which they discussed Rep. John Carson’s (R, 46th) “More Take Home Pay” Bill.  The bill is the first attempt at tax reform in Georgia since 2010, so let’s all be grateful for an attempt at addressing the behemoth that is Georgia’s Swiss cheese tax code.  You may find the bill, as introduced by clicking here.  However, it is my understanding that the bill is a “working document” and has not been updated online.  For whatever reason, the Georgia General Assembly’s process of policy exists largely outside of the sphere of modernity.  The bills are not updated in a timely manner online for easy dissemination.  The fiscal note is not readily available online in conjunction with the bill itself, and if the bill is discussed between sessions of the legislature, it would seem it is perfectly normal and acceptable to not include those discussion documents online in one central area.

Clearly, I am not of the same accord. 

In the #gapol Twitter feed, I posed my questions and graciously Rep. Brett Harrell (R, 106) informed me that (as always) I may contact the Ways and Means staff for any of the documents shared in the meeting.  I have chosen to share them with you below.

Tax Reform Speakers

More Take Home Pay Presentation during W&M Meeting 8.16.15

Fitch Ratings of Georgia’s Obligations

Standard & Poor’s Rating Report

Analysis of State Tax Rates Across the Nation

Per Capita Debt Rankings by state

AAA Bond Rates by States Table

AAA Bond Rating by States with Distribution of State Taxes

Southeastern States Tax Percentages 2014

Tennessee Tax Percentage Charts 2014

July 2015 sales tax distribution-all counties in Georgia

This is a fairly comprehensive list of documents (none of which are actual legislation nor official fiscal analysis as provided by the state), so I can see how legislators could make the assumption that no one will sort through these documents.  I can also see the point of some of my General Assembly staff friends who pointed out to me that there is some goodness in not sharing this information on a large scale- they deal with less wackos and irate members of the general public this way.  I get that.  I also am aware that there are many lobbyist friends of mine who have dogs in this hunt, one way or another.

Yet I consistently hold the belief that open and honest communication with others gains you more friends than enemies. 

Last legislative session, the General Assembly took up the issue of transportation and its funding.  I was with the General Assembly then and would defend the members for their stances on that issue.  It was a huge policy lift and had been coming for a long time.  I worked in the office of the Senate Majority Leader the last time tax reform came around and I remember VERY WELL all the folks who called in to raise Cain over it.

Yet I will assert that policy making in Georgia continues to smack of elitism and even if not intentional, comes across as purposefully misleading or completely leaving out the public.  Some see it as a transparency issue, others see it as a necessary by-product of politics, others chalk it up to the perception of lack of morality in the bodies.  Personally, I do not see legislators in that light.   Many of them take their responsibilities seriously and their policy decisions are not made lightly.  Yet as the communications process itself has not been updated nor standardized across the chambers, the unfortunate result is the appearance of cloak and dagger machinations.

Whenever Georgia wishes to move forward with business and with our culture as a whole, we need to seriously look in the mirror at how we make our decisions.  Do we make them openly with live streamed meetings?  Do we leave them open to public comment?  Do we have a standardized set of rules with which to conduct the meetings of each body?  Do we have a means by which of sharing documents and presentations for the general public?

The answer right now is no to all of the above.  This is the way policy has always proceeded in Georgia.  The question now is, do we continue to accept this?

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