There is something to be said about the old saw, “walk a mile in my shoes.” It’s something our General Assembly should try doing every now and again. The lawmakers who travel to Atlanta each year pass laws that cost local governments millions of dollars. They don’t have to explain how local governments are supposed to adhere to those edicts -- from tax breaks that hit them to changes in procedures that also are expensive. They can do that because they don’t have to implement a thing.
When former State Sen. Cecil Staton insisted on putting a passage in the consolidation charter that required Macon-Bibb County to cut taxes by 20 percent over four years, he didn’t have to worry about what hoops the new government would have to jump through to comply.
The local delegation, now chaired by Rep. Bubber Epps, is being asked to change that requirement and he’s refused saying commissioners have the power to avoid that language on its own with a 6-3 vote. In other words, the delegation responsible for the language doesn’t want any part of being the ones to fix it. And, quite frankly, the commissioners don’t want to -- in the words of Commissioner Al Tillman -- “take the heat” for raising taxes by ignoring the language that allows them to do that in the name of public safety.
And that’s exactly what the commissioners are going to have to do if they are going to avoid more draconian measures such as layoffs. Since consolidation, one new fire station has opened and another, in east Macon, is due to come online, necessitating hiring more firefighters. While the SPLOST paid for the facilities and equipment, proceeds cannot be used for operational expenses.
The delegation also shot down the commission’s request to place a referendum on the ballot for a 1 mill tax increase with proceeds going to fund indigent care, museums, the arts, para-transit and economic development. So much for letting the people decide. However, the commission has the power to raise taxes by 1-mill without state approval, but they know such a move would raise the ire of voters and invite challenges come election time.
The delegation did throw the commission a small bone to correct a problem it created. They agreed to correct an error in the consolidation charter to reflect the 20 percent cut would come from last year’s larger budget instead of this year’s lower budget. That should put another $5.4 million in the commission’s hands.
Lawmakers could be more transparent. When talking about taxes, just be honest.