Published on (

End property taxes, Georgia House speaker says

By Larry Peterson
Created 2007-07-07 23:30

Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson says eliminating property taxes will be his top legislative priority next year.

In Savannah on Friday to appear with Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, Richardson portrayed the idea as the leading edge of a new tax revolt.

"I believe we can put Georgia on the map," Richardson said. "It will be the biggest decision Georgia ever made, and the nation will follow. There is a rising call all over the country from people tired of property taxes."

To make up lost revenue, the Hiram Republican would increase the reach of the sales tax to include groceries and services - now exempt.

Any such measure, he noted, would have to be placed on the state ballot.

Richardson said the state ought to be taxing "the exchange and receipt of money," rather than land.

"The largest asset most people have," he said, "is their home."

Democrats say his proposal would hurt the middle class and the poor.

"I don't see how it could be fair," said state Sen. Regina Thomas, D-Savannah. "How can people who are making minimum wage afford to pay more sales taxes?"

But Richardson said his proposal calls for rebates that would offset the impact of higher sales taxes for families with incomes up to $40,000 a year.

He said many lower-income people own homes and pay property taxes, and that tenants pay them indirectly as part of their rent. They also pay car taxes, a property levy that would be wiped out under his proposal, Richardson said.

Under his plan, money would flow in from thousands of illegal immigrants who now pay no taxes on groceries and services.

Bert Brantley, Gov. Sonny Perdue's press secretary, said Perdue has no position on Richardson's idea but welcomes a discussion about it and other tax reform proposals.

Also on the agenda

Richardson said his other priorities for next year are to bail out the state's trauma care system and reduce school dropout rates.

Officials with major trauma centers such as Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah say rising costs threaten the future of their operations.

One solution, Richardson said, might be to let counties vote to levy an additional $1 monthly fee on telephone service.

He also said partnerships with vocational-education centers could help keep students in school.

The speaker rejected contentions that Georgia needs more money - and perhaps new taxes - for road projects. Citing insufficient funds, the state is delaying highway work all over Georgia, including in Chatham County.

Richardson said that complaints about the state's highway network are overblown.

"We have great roads in Georgia," he said. "Just drive over to some of our neighboring states. ... I think there is an alarmist mentality. ... It's not cataclysmic."

He also dismissed a call by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute for the state to more than double the amount of money it salts away for emergencies.

"It's extremely bad policy" because Georgia should not collect more money than it needs to run the government, the speaker said.

Richardson conceded the state should "keep a little bit" of money in a so-called "rainy-day fund," but he said that fund, which is nearing $1.5 billion, is the biggest it has ever been.

Source URL: