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Tax policy a quality-of-life topic in 2015
Wesley Tharpe
Wesley Tharpe is senior policy analyst for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, - photo by File photo

Taxes are nobody’s favorite expense. Most people view them as simply a nuisance bill to pay or as an added cost on a major purchase. Average Georgians rarely give state tax policy a second thought, especially compared to critical challenges like education and health care. But few issues matter more to the pocketbooks of Georgia families, the bottom line of Georgia businesses and the ability of state and local governments to fund quality public services.

... Georgia’s House and Senate passed 11 different tax bills this year, and the governor approved 10 of them. The projected costs and benefits are tallied in “Adding Up the Fiscal Notes: Final 2015 Tax Recap,” the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s annual accounting of state tax bills signed into law.

The largest tax measure by far is House Bill 170, a package of mostly sound reforms designed to raise nearly $1 billion a year to repair Georgia’s roads and bridges. The other nine measures include new corporate tax breaks, exemptions for nonprofits and a housekeeping bill lawmakers must pass each year. Combined, these nine bills cost an estimated $121 million in lost revenue over the next five years. ...

The governor also prudently vetoed tax revisions proposed in HB 439. The measure would’ve split $110 million over the next eight budget years between a pair of tax-credit programs designed to spur private-sector investment: a new initiative called Georgia “New Markets” and a program created in 2013 called “Invest Georgia.” The veto gives lawmakers the chance to separate the good and bad aspects of that bill before possibly reconsidering it in future years.

The New Markets half of HB 439 raised serious questions from the start. It closely resembled some flawed initiatives in other states, as well as a tax-credit scheme that Georgia lawmakers repeatedly rejected in the past. Supporters of this type of program pushed their case in Georgia since at least 2011, and the governor’s veto should be the end of the line. But if the proposal comes back in the future, legislators should bury it for good.  

The Invest Georgia portion of HB 439 shows more promise. It’s more likely to target high-growth Georgia companies and includes some safeguards for how tax dollars are spent. Lawmakers should consider a modest down payment on Invest Georgia in coming years, then closely monitor its results to gauge whether the program works.

The 2015 legislative session is in the books. Those of us with more-than-average interest in state tax policy now turn our attention to 2016. ... House leaders introduced a major tax ovehaul this session, HB 445, which they’ll likely consider next year.

The bill proposes some fundamental changes to the ways Georgia collects state revenues. It seems to carry serious implications for the average Georgian. Could working families wind up with a tax increase?  Will it decrease state spending on schools and other services? GBPI will provide updated details and analysis on Georgia’s tax-reform options so lawmakers and citizens can get a clearer picture of what’s at stake.

This column was distributed by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, which bills itself as an independent think tank that seeks to build a more-prosperous Georgia by analyzing budget and tax policies and providing education to inspire informed debate and responsible decision-making.

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