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Taxpayers deserve break
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By now, one thing's pretty clear.

Government officials, college professors and editorial boards at larger newspapers don’t like Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s GREAT plan, which would abolish property taxes.

The reasons why so many appear to find his proposal so unworkable range from the loss of local governmental control over local purse strings to the shortfall it could well lead to in terms of tax dollars for funding of government.

Those concerns seem valid. So is a fear that the sales taxes used to offset the loss of property taxes will be more costly to taxpayers.

In other words, it won’t save anybody anything.

However, we’d prefer to wait until we learn more from a variety of impartial sources before deciding if this is the wrong plan to provide tax relief to property owners.

But make no mistake about this. Tax relief is not only necessary, but should be one of the top priorities of all elected officials, since they're the ones spending our tax money. Consider that during the most recent revaluation, some property owners in Bryan County saw their tax assessments double and, in at least one case, almost triple due to the rising cost of homes in the area.

And it's a statewide problem long in the making. Richardson, in a recent opinion piece explaining the goals of his GREAT plan, noted that personal income has increased by 146 percent in Georgia since 1990 while taxes have gone up 176 percent over that same time period.

We've no reason to believe his numbers are incorrect and we look forward to learning more about Richardson's proposal – and its potential impact on all of us – from both sides of the issue.

In the meantime, we've got a few proposals of our own. Are they workable? We're not policy wonks or tax experts, but if you look at the issue from the perspective of being forced to rent your property from the government for an annual stipend that continues to increase, they could very well make some sense.

1. Untie taxes from the real estate market and freeze property values at a set price for tax purposes. You buy a house for $300,000 and that’s what you pay taxes on for as long as you own your home. If you buy a house for $75,000, that’s what you pay taxes on. If, over the years, your house increases in value and you sell, you pay an appropriate amount of taxes to reflect the increase in your property values. However, if you have no intention of selling, why be taxed more just because others find your neighborhood desirable? The bottom line is tying something that can be as punitive to some homeowners as property tax to something so speculative as the real estate market is unfair to those who may not have the financial wherewithal to keep up with increasing property assessments.

2. Exempt no one from paying their full share of taxes except senior citizens and military or public safety heroes. If we're going to have property taxes, then let's have property taxes for everyone.

3. Stop giving tax breaks to industry. Georgia is one of the most desirable places for companies to set up shop these days for a number of reasons. One has been incentives offered by officials, which often include tax breaks. The argument in favor of the breaks is they’re necessary to lure industry and thus create badly needed jobs. That’s an understandable argument, but we believe Georgia doesn't need to give itself away.

4. Change the due date, consider monthly payments, etc. If there’s one thing Georgians love about paying property tax– and there isn’t – it’s having to come up with the full bill in November. Does the Grinch set that date? Here's where any other deadline would be an improvement over one which arrives weeks before people are preparing for Christmas. Even better would be a payment schedule to allow folks to spread the pain out over as many months as possible – without finance charges, of course.

There are other possibilities, but we're out of space in this column. And unlike government, we can’t simply raise a millage rate or hike taxes to buy more.

Bryan County News

Oct. 24, 2007

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