Report finds tax relief plan flawed

Jenna Marie Campbell, a seventh-grader at Riverside Middle School and daughter of Russ and Cathy Campbell of Martinez, who served as a page, poses with State Rep. Barry Fleming (left) and Speaker Glenn Richardson at the state capitol. HAND OUT

ATLANTA --- Georgia should keep efforts to provide property tax relief and education funding separate, a new report said.


The study also suggested the ideas being floated to address the two issues in Georgia might be the wrong approach.

The report, "The Property Tax -- School Funding Dilemma," argues that states that try to provide some form of property-tax relief as part of a plan to restructure education funding usually don't do either particularly well.

"I would advise attacking those two problems separately," said Daphne Kenyon, a visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, which issued the study.

The report includes at least one case study of a state that scrapped education property taxes and replaced it with an expanded sales tax, something similar to the tax reform plan being floated by House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram.

But Ms. Kenyon suggests in the report that the change to a sales-tax model, which critics say is more sensitive to the economic climate, helped spark a crisis in education funding.

"One continuing concern is that Michigan's new school funding system has made school aid more vulnerable to economic downturns. The state is facing a serious financial crisis, including a large structural budget deficit and downgrades in its credit rating," Ms. Kenyon writes in the report.

Ms. Kenyon advises instead that states look at a "circuit breaker" approach to property tax reform, which caps the percentage of someone's income that can be spent on the tax, particularly for low- and middle-income residents.

"It's very expensive if you give broad-based property tax reform to people who don't really need it," Ms. Kenyon said.

Georgia lawmakers who support Mr. Richardson's plan, though, argue that constituents want something done about the property tax.

Mr. Richardson and his allies have also said that local government spending and the taxes that fuel that spending are increasing faster than inflation.

"The voters want relief from a system that is really out of control and outdated," House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, said at a recent news conference.

Ms. Kenyon also cautions states to avoid an idea that has been pitched to Gov. Sonny Perdue's Education Finance Tax Force.

At the panel's last meeting, in November, Gwinnett County Schools Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks presented a recommendation that the state commit a set percentage of state funding to education.

That would create a direct link between education funding and the state of the economy. If business were good, then school spending could grow accordingly.

"But in times of bad economy, obviously, if you don't have the money, then you can't manufacture it," Mr. Wilbanks said.

Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson wants to scrap property taxes.