State trying new ways to weasel out of its responsibilities

March 28, 2012 

Once upon a time there was a Georgia Speaker of the House with the name of Glenn Richardson. He gave speeches all over the state -- even in Macon -- where he blamed all the tax woes on local officials while touting the state’s efforts to lower tax bills. What the Speaker neglected to say at one such talk at Mercer University, as he looked at his watch impatiently, was the reason local officials, in many cases, had to raise property taxes or develop other income streams.

The rest of the story was hidden behind Richardson’s brand of mumbo-jumbo. When he waved his magic wand to lower taxes, he didn’t change any of the dictates required of local governments, he just changed who paid for them.

Now the state returns with another schizophrenic proposal to lower the number of felony offenses its responsible for adjudicating. In other words, they want to lower the number of inmates in state prisons. How can it do that? Change the definition of a felony from a $500 to a $1,000 offense. It’s not that a thief stopped stealing, it just means instead of being a state felony it would be a local misdemeanor, and local taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

The state only pays 40 percent of the actual costs of feeding and housing state prisoners. And it leaves them languishing in our jail and others across the state for days and weeks. The carrot lawmakers have presented is an $11.6 million allocation to set up “accountability courts.” Bibb County was a pioneer. Our Drug Court has been in operation for 18 years and has proven beyond a doubt that such courts work. But the carrot the state is offering doesn’t smell quite right because the funding isn’t enough to pay the costs of setting up drug courts across the state. Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena said the amount is a “drop in the bucket.”

At the very least, lawmakers should not go around the state after this session talking about how they’ve lowered citizens’ tax burden. What they have actually done, in this case, is better known by a health insurance term. The state will have “cost-shifted” more of its responsibilities to local taxpayers.

-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board

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