House downs Richardson tax plan

The House of Representatives refused today to eliminate property taxes on cars and cap the property tax revenues of local governments, voting largely along partisan lines.

The House voted 110-62 in favor of Senate Resolution 796, championed by the Republican Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, 10 votes short of the 120 needed to pass a constitutional amendment.

Republican leaders vowed to use the vote as a campaign issue this fall.

“I think the people will get a chance to vote on this again, and it will be in November, at the ballot box,” said Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons. “When you get your tag renewal, and you have to write that check, we want you to remember how your representative voted on this.”

Democrats said they favored ending the car tax, but opposed coupling it to limits on local government revenues.

“We have attempted to work on this,” said Rep. DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, the House minority leader. “There are other options [to offer property tax relief] than wrecking the way that local government is financed.”

The vote is likely the final nail in a once-sweeping tax reform plan Richardson first announced nearly a year ago, which would have eliminated all taxes in Georgia other than a sales tax on goods and services.

“I woke one day, and said, ‘What am I doing in this job?’” said Richardson, who spoke for half an hour to a hushed House. “I said, ‘It’s time to do something that dramatically and drastically effects how government works in this state, and what has a more dramatic effect than taxes?’”

No opponents spoke against the bill, which had been trimmed to a fraction of its original scope, and coupled with a Senate-passed resolution to limit property reassessments. Porter said the fact that no amendments were allowed made it futile to debate.

Richardson’s plan, which also included the now-moot House Bill 979, included a $10 car tag fee to fund trauma hospitals. Both Republicans and Democrats said there was enough time left in the session to find alternate funding for that.

A parade of Republican leaders railed against lobbyists who opposed the bill, without specifically naming them, making it clear they represented local governments and school boards.

“Tax dollars right now are being paid for people to work against a bill to let people decide on their taxes,” Richardson said. “You’re either going to say, you’re going to listen to the people in the hall, or you’re going to let the people of Georgia vote.”

Richardson’s supporters said they hoped the tax was the first step toward an eventual shift from property taxes to consumption-based taxes.

Lobbyists from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the Georgia Municipal Association and the Georgia School Board Association stood with Democratic leaders to defend the vote.

Similar caps on local government revenue had proved “disastrous” in other states that had tried them, said Clint Mueller, the ACCG’s legislative director.

“Colorado has had to go back and put a moratorium on it,” Mueller said. “This has not worked elsewhere, so why would we want to follow in their path?”