Tax reform council says many rulings made in secret

ATLANTA --- The 11 members of a special council that will recommend ways to overhaul the state's tax structure made their substantive decisions privately, members revealed Wednesday.


The council held a brief, final meeting Wednesday in what observers expected to include votes on several controversial issues, such as removing the sales-tax exemption on groceries, raising the tax on cigarettes and lowering income taxes. However, the chairman, A.D. Frazier, gave a 20-minute outline of the general areas of prior public discussions and said that the controversial recommendations would come when the council releases the final report to the public Tuesday. It is required to deliver the report to the speaker of the House and lieutenant governor Monday, the legislature's opening day.

"I'm not going to go into specifics now," Frazier said.

Council member Roy Fickling, a real estate developer from Macon, said the decisions have been made, although final calculations remain before the final report is completed. Subcommittees assigned by Frazier hammered out each recommendation for consideration by the group, Fickling said, but the debates were kept out of view of the public.

"It was discussed, but you just can't get all together at one time and discuss it," he said.

Why not?

"Because it would have to be done in an open meeting (under Georgia law)," he answered.

Council member Roger Tutterow, an economics professor at Mercer University, said the broad scope of the council's work made public discussion unworkable.

"We all have talked as individuals from time to time. That's the nature of this type of analysis," he said.

Fickling and Tutterow were on the subcommittee looking at the dozens of exemptions to the sales tax. Asked if the council will recommend removing the food exemption, which is one of the largest, Tutterow was vague.

"We have considered it as we have tried to consider virtually every significant part of the tax code," he said.

Outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue was a member of the council but missed most of the meetings. He wasn't present Wednesday.

The council's recommendations will go before a joint committee of the House and Senate.