Georgia Political News for April 2, 2012 — Session Wrap-up

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Apr

Georgia Political News for April 2, 2012 — Session Wrap-up

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Legislative Wrap-Up Part Two

The liberal media elite at the AJC have a session wrap-up, and you can listen to the second part of Dennis O’Hayer’s interview with Governor Nathan Deal.

Senator Mike Crane (R-Newnan) reviews his first session after winning a December special election runoff to succeed former Sen. Mitch Seabaugh. Crane told the Times-Herald,  “We made some progress in a couple of different areas, from tax reform to government oversight with the zero-based budgeting.”

State Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) told the Gainesville Timesthat tax reform passed this session made “very significant progress toward the promise of jobs.” Senator Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) said that repealing the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing levels the field when Georgia competes for jobs against other states, “We were, frankly, at an unfair disadvantage,” said Miller.

Georgia Republican Party Chair Sue Everhart wrote:

“Significant advancements were made during the 2012 Legislative Session that will protect and advance the interests of Georgia’s students, small business owners, taxpayers, workers and so many others. I am pleased to recognize the remarkable efforts of our Republican legislators, and will proudly stand behind the achievements of this year’s General Assembly. As we move towards the 2012 Election Cycle, it is ever-more clear to the voters of Georgia that the Republican Party has fought, and will continue to fight, with nothing but their constituents’ very best interests at heart.

“I look forward to growing our Republican legislative majorities in November and returning for the 2013 Georgia General Assembly Legislative Session with the same passion, determination and impenetrable will to succeed that our Party’s legislators show year after year.”

Sens. Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton) and Mike Crane (R-Newnan) and Reps. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton), Randy Nix, (R-LaGrange), Dustin Hightower (R-Carrollton) reviewed the Session with the Carroll County Times-Georgian.

Athens businesses are praising the General Assembly’s tax structure reform. Solar panel manufacturer Power Partners human resources director Dan Carton said of the repeal of Georgia’s sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, “That is money we’ll be able to put back into the business now.” Athens bookstore owner Janet Geddis questioned whether the “e-fairness” measure requiring online retailers to collect Georgia sales tax will affect her business.

“It really remains to be seen how it plays out,” she said. “Since Amazon didn’t raise a fuss, I’m not sure they will be taxed.”

Geddis’ suspicions are correct — more online products will be taxed, but sites like Amazon that don’t have a physical presence in the state still won’t have to collect taxes. Federal law only requires online retailers with stores or warehouses in a state to charge sales taxes on purchases in that state.

“For me, it’s a fairness issue, and it’s an economic development issue,” Geddis said. “If they had to pay tax that could help our schools and our roads, imagine what a difference it would make.”

The Savannah Morning News writes that:

“The reality is that brick-and-mortar stores have a responsibility of collecting sales tax from their customers at the point of sale,” said Rick McAllister, president of the Georgia Retail Association and a proponent of the tax. “With the evolution of the Internet, most of our members who have Internet sales collect tax on their sites, but there are some who don’t. It’s not a new tax. What we’re asking folks to do is collect the sales tax from their customers and remit it to the state of Georgia just like all the brick and mortar stores do.”

McAllister said that all of his e-commerce members currently collect the tax, yet they must compete with retailers outside the state who may not collect it.

“This is really a collection issue, pure and simple,” he said. “It’s already owed by the customer. This levels the playing field for our members, who are doing the right thing.”

Georgia Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie has urged the state’s consumers to be proactive about paying sales tax on online purchases. During the last holiday season he reminded shoppers that when state sales tax is not charged by such retailers, it becomes the purchaser’s responsibility to remit the tax on the purchase. Currently, those who make online purchases without paying sales tax can pay using an online form on the department’s website.

MacGinnitie declined to comment on the law, since it has not yet been signed by Deal.

“We believe that more and more states will pass similar laws, as e-commerce becomes a bigger piece of the retail pie,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. “It’s unfair to tax Georgia job creators but not their competition. Eventually, it will have to be taken up on the federal level.”

Gwinnett County Chair Charlotte Nash (R-Dacula) said that the County’s loss of auto tag revenue from ad valorem taxes is easily quantifiable, but the ultimate effect on tax collections of moving to a title tax is unknown.

We can tell you what we will lose from the shrinking base that will no longer take part in the ad valorem tax,” she said, but the government is struggling to estimate revenues from the excise tax.

Plus, it is hard to predict how soon people will buy new cars.

“We still don’t have a good feel for how fast vehicles come out of the digest,” she said of the ad valorem taxes that bring in nearly $26 million to the government each year.

In the same story, the Gwinnett County School System estimates it will break even the first two years under the new tax structure, but could end up losing $100 million total over ten years.

Dead Letter Office

House Bill 715 by Rep. Lynne Riley (R-Johns Creek) did not successfully pass both chambers after lobbyists for tax collection officials added language to preserve existing contracts between tax collectors and municipalities. Currently county tax collectors may be paid personally by municipalities for collecting taxes and, Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur personally pocketed $212,000 from Fulton County cities in 2011.

Senate Bill 234 by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) would have revised the “Property Taxpayers Bill of Rights”  and would have forbade tax commissioners from selling tax liens to collection firms if the valuation was under appeal, prevented the tax commissioners from pocketing fees for collecting taxes in municipalities, and created a state board to review complaints about local tax appeal boards. The bill died when it was not called for a vote in the House after the Senate tweaked some of the language before passing it 50-1.

House Bill 1052 by Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) did not receive a final vote in the House after the House disagreed with a Senate amendment. The bill would have shifted authority to appoint some Board members from Fulton and DeKalb Counties to panels of the counties’ mayors.

Campaigns and Elections

Flowery Branch will hold a runoff election on Tuesday from 7 AM to 7 PM at City Hall, located at 5517 Main Street to fill the City Council seat vacated by former council member Kris Yardley.  Jason Covert and Fred Richards made the runoff.

Coweta County will now sport four house seats under the most recent redistricting, but county election officials will not mail new precinct cards to voters until local district lines are approved by USDOJ.

The Georgia Senate failed to pass new district lines for the Cobb County Commission, weeks after the House passed a map sponsored by Reps. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) and Ed Setzler (R-Acworth). County Commission Chair Tim Lee (R) told the Marietta Daily Journal, “I’m obviously disappointed that they didn’t get it done because it’s going to create so much more havoc for the citizens of Cobb County as we approach the election of two important district seats.”

PeachTeaPAC is seeking the defeat of State Rep. Ron Stephens because he failed to vote for the “Fetal Pain Bill” that will reduce from 26 weeks to 20 weeks the window of availability for elective abortions. Stephens discussed his personal reasons for opposing the bill, based in the troubled pregnancy of his daughter, whose baby was expected to die seconds after birth.

David Cheshire will challenge incumbent Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals, in the Republican primary. Cheshire told the Albany Herald:

“I feel the people of Lee County deserve a sheriff that will look out for their best interest,” Cheshire said. “I’ve been in (law enforcement) long enough and with the (Lee) sheriff’s department long enough to see things that I don’t think are right. And most of the concerns I have — and citizens in the county have — are about money.”

Sheriff Rachals announced in January that he will seek reelection.

State Rep. Bob Hanner (R-Parrott) will not run for reelection after 37 years in the House.

Local News

The state Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court holding dismissing the original indictment of former CobbEMC CEO Dwight Brown on charges of theft and racketeering. Brown’s lawyer Roy Barnes is challenging the second indictment of Brown, returned after the first was invalidated.

Augusta lawyer Freddie Sanders apparently can’t decide whether to run for Richmond County Sheriff. Last week he was out, currently he is in. If you don’t like his current decision, just wait a couple days.

Right whales off the Georgia coast had a disappointing calving season, with researchers counting only six new whales, considerably lower than the average of 20 per year over the last decade.

Jack Youmans, who served 18 years on the Tybee City Council before his 2006 retirement, died Saturday.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 114 will celebrate Confederate Heritage and History Month with a memorial service at Confederate Memorial Park on Philema Road in Albany on April 14, beginning at 9 AM.

The Georgia Society Military Order of the Stars & Bars will hold its 11th National Confederate Memorial Service on April 14th at Stone Mountain Park, beginning at 1 PM in front of the Carving Reflection Pool.

Transportation

The Georgia Transportation Alliance argues that passage of the TSPLOST in July will mean new jobs in the state and an opportunity to catch up on our infrastructure development.

“According to the Federal Highway Administration, $1 billion invested in highway construction and improvements supports 27,823 jobs,” said Doug Callaway, executive director of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, an affiliate of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce focused on long-term transportation strategy.

“With the passage of this referendum, that will translate into 43,425 new jobs in the coastal region,” he said.

Georgia ranks almost dead last in transportation investments per capita, Callaway said.

“On top of that, our state gas tax is the second lowest in the U.S. — good for consumers but not so good for generating revenue for transportation projects.”

The AJC calls investing in the deepening of the Savannah River channel to improve access to the Port of Savannah a “gamble,” arguing there is little evidence the project will result in a greater number of port calls at Savannah.

But there is little evidence that the deepening – one of Georgia’s most expensive transportation ventures ever – will [bring jobs and revenue to Georgia]. In fact, the federal government predicts the project will not result in more cargo through the port of Savannah or in any permanent jobs statewide.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Ports Authority approved renovations to Brunswick’s Colonels Island terminal and other projects to improve the throughput of the Savannah terminal, which was the second-busiest US port for containerized exports in 2011.

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