The People’s Business, by President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams
February 8, 2010
The U.S. Constitution begins with arguably the most powerful words in the English language, “We the People” not “we the government.” The government exists at the will of the people to work for the people. During tough economic times, many forget this and suggest greater government controls and intervention to “help” the people. Taxation, litigation and regulation have proven to only restrict and confine the economy; rather than encourage growth and expansion. As elected officials, we have a duty and responsibility to work to expand opportunity and create an environment where Georgians can pursue the American Dream.
This legislative session poses to be one of our most challenging ones yet. With 10% state unemployment, state revenues at an all time low, and property values plummeting, it is hard to find a Georgian that has not felt the impact of these economic conditions. This is why it is so critically important that the legislature focus on creating jobs and opportunities for our communities. The greatest stimulus for a robust economy comes from an economic environment that encourages opportunity, productivity and innovation. The hard-working people of Georgia – not big government – are the key to our economic prosperity.
Republican leaders in the Senate and House recently announced the Jobs, Opportunity, and Business Success Act of 2010 (JOBS Act of 2010) to provide Georgia businesses the tools they need to create jobs. This legislation is designed to stimulate the state’s economy by providing incentives for businesses to expand and invest in hiring new employees and also attract new businesses to move to Georgia.
Some economists suggest that providing tax breaks will cause further declines state revenues. They would rather put money in the pocket of the government rather than the people. This theory is simply not true. State revenues mainly come from two areas – income taxes and sales taxes. If people aren’t working, they aren’t paying taxes and state revenues continue to decline. The tax breaks from the JOBS Act of 2010 occur two years after a company has taken a worker off of unemployment. This puts Georgians back to work, generating state revenues and increasing personal spending in the market place. One reason Georgia has fared so much better than other states is that we are one of the lowest taxed states in the country, while also having the lowest debt per capita in the nation.
A government overburdening its citizens with taxes is not the solution to economic recovery and increasing revenues. One area that Georgia needs to improve is how we tax, specifically on property. Property is the only thing taxed that is not based off of income. If you don’t have a job, you don’t pay income taxes. If you aren’t spending money, you’re not paying sales taxes. However, you will always have to pay your property tax regardless of your financial situation. I find this to be inherently wrong. As much as I would like to go the fair tax plan, we do not have the two thirds votes required to pass it. Therefore, the Senate proposed a property tax assessment and appeals reform bill with more than 40 changes to Georgia’s tax system.
Property values in Georgia have fallen drastically over the past few years. Assessed values have not kept pace, resulting in property taxes for many property owners being artificially high. Homeowners, business owners, tax assessors, and property lawyers provided the Senate valuable information for over a year as to the flaws, challenges and suggested solutions to the system. As a result, Senate leaders worked with everyone in the industry and achieved bi-partisan support to overhaul Georgia’s property tax system. Changes to the assessment and appeals system include year-round assessment appeals, all comparable sales including foreclosures and banks sales must be applied, and the “view factor” will be eliminated as a way to determine value. The proposed changes to assessments and appeals will ease burdens on property owners, but also achieve efficiency for the process and for county governments.
As I mentioned before, Georgia is one of the lowest taxed states in the nation and has the lowest dept per capita among the 50 states, making our great state very attractive to employers. We must continue this trend by fostering an environment that allows Georgia businesses to grow, people to be employed and reduces personal tax burdens.
Sen. Tommie Williams serves as President Pro Tempore. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Toombs, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached at 404.656.0089 or by email at tommie.williams@Senate.ga.gov.